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Saints, Graham almost certainly headed for franchise-tag fight

Graham Getty Images

Earlier this week, Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis said that the team will apply the tight end version of the franchise tag to Jimmy Graham, if a long-term deal isn’t worked out before then.

In other words, the Saints will be applying the tight end version of the franchise tag to Jimmy Graham.

If the Saints follow the precedent established when dealing with quarterback Drew Brees two years ago, the Saints will wait until the last possible moment to sign Graham to a new deal.  And if the Saints have to lose a grievance along the way, so be it.

With Brees, the Saints indeed lost a grievance, over the question of whether he’d be entitled to a 20-percent raise or a 44-percent raise in 2013, under the franchise tag.  Ultimately, they signed Brees on the eve of the July deadline for signing a franchise-tagged player to a long-term deal.

With Graham, it means that a long-term deal to the player’s liking likely won’t be offered by the deadline for applying the franchise tag, that the Saints will apply the tight end version of the tag, and that Graham will then file a grievance arguing that he actually was a receiver in 2013.

The key language of the CBA seems to support Graham.  Under Article 9, Section 2 of the CBA, “[T]he tender will apply to the position in which the player participated in the most plays.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Graham lined up for 67 percent of 879 regular-season and postseason snaps as something other than a tight end, with the most snaps coming lined up in the slot.

In response, the Saints may argue that the modern tight end position entails moving around to other spots, as other tight ends paid like tight ends do.

Other squabbles regarding the franchise tag has been settled while pending, including a tight end/receiver disagreement between the Packers and Jermichael Finley and a defensive end/linebacker fight between the Ravens and Terrell Suggs.  The question is whether the Saints will blink and compromise — or whether they’ll push the tight end/receiver question to the limit.

On one hand, it’d be good if they let the matter be resolved via arbitration.  The issue isn’t going away, with more and more teams using more and more tight ends as receivers.  On the other hand, the Saints could end up costing themselves a lot of money on a long-term deal if the starting point via the tag is $4.5 million higher for 2014.

Regardless, it would be out of character for the Saints to sign Graham to a long-term deal at any point before they absolutely have to.

If the use the non-exclusive version of the tag, that could happen quickly, if a team like the Falcons (which needs a successor to Tony Gonzalez) or the 49ers (which is drafting low this year and likely will be next year) or the Ravens (ditto) decides to pony up a pair of first-round picks for a chance to pilfer Graham from the Saints.

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24 Responses to “Saints, Graham almost certainly headed for franchise-tag fight”
  1. thestrategyexpert says: Jan 23, 2014 11:09 AM

    The language says which position he played at for the most plays. So they are only looking for ONE position, not a subgroup of a group of plays. “Something other than a TE” could be multiple positions.

    How many of those were WR positions (and not H-Back or FB or RB or HB or WB or any other letter in the alphabet before a capital B), and how many snaps as a TE did he take?

    We only need those 2 numbers.

  2. drunkinsconnie says: Jan 23, 2014 11:12 AM

    Put a bounty on his contract. It’ll get done.

  3. unfortunatelyabillsfan says: Jan 23, 2014 11:16 AM

    I know this would never happen…but could you imagine him signing with the Pats. Him and Rob G together would be so much fun to watch. Goodell would probably block it due to the fact that it would be unfair to every other NFL Defense

  4. richeisennflnetwork says: Jan 23, 2014 11:25 AM

    One of the best TE in the league. If there was ever a time to pay a guy, this is it. Just get it done.

  5. jjb0811 says: Jan 23, 2014 11:43 AM

    Saints are more than a great TE away from another run. I’d go non-exclusive and see who bites.

  6. Davo says: Jan 23, 2014 11:50 AM

    With the new CBA, does a player have to accept the tag and show up for camp/game 1 of the season, or can they hold off on signing until some time into the new season (week 10 or something like that) before signing and getting a year accrual on their playing tenure?

    That might be the only leverage Graham has, if it comes to that.

  7. The League's Crusade Against The Steelers Continues says: Jan 23, 2014 11:51 AM

    Aren’t there tags for hybrid DE/OLBs? I’m sure there is a number you can put on a hybrid WR/TE.

  8. russellwilsonismymvp says: Jan 23, 2014 11:52 AM

    He’ll probably want to sign with Seattle so he never has to face that defense again.

  9. boobsmcgoo says: Jan 23, 2014 12:05 PM

    Just like the Brees deal, they will reach a long term deal at the deadline and everyone will be happy. In the meantime we will hear reports of how horrible and acrimonious the negotiations are going. Saints will plant reports they they offered a boatload of money and the greedy player turned it down. Graham’s camp will say the Saints are low-balling him and insulting him. Just.like.the.Brees.deal. Then Graham signs the big contract and dunks it over the goal post!

  10. igocommando says: Jan 23, 2014 12:05 PM

    Wasn’t he selected to the Pro Bowl as a te.

  11. bleedgreen says: Jan 23, 2014 12:09 PM

    They didn’t want to pay Brees, what makes anyone think they’d simply pony up for Graham?

  12. bayoovoodoo22 says: Jan 23, 2014 12:16 PM

    Let him go and get what you can for him. Saints offense has many weapons and with Brees someone will step up and fill his place with ease

  13. SeenThisB4 says: Jan 23, 2014 1:05 PM

    He should be paid as the best TE in the league, but he is no where near being the best wide receiver in the league.

  14. synysterjman says: Jan 23, 2014 1:13 PM

    Drew brees wants an explanation….

  15. sb44champs says: Jan 23, 2014 1:34 PM

    Take the 2 first-rounders as we could use another young wideout and a decent OT protecting Drew so he doesn’t get sacked a record number of times again.

  16. singhgill says: Jan 23, 2014 1:43 PM

    They should let them play the Seahawks a few more times to lower his value. I’m Jimmy and I sucked against the Seahawks.

  17. 4thqtrsaint says: Jan 23, 2014 2:48 PM

    I love Jimmy, but we can’t pay too much for him. Saints won a SuperBowl without him. Josh Hill is coming along nicely & only 2 inches shorter. 2 1st rd picks would be great to get. Oline, LB & WR help is needed.

  18. sarentack says: Jan 23, 2014 7:31 PM

    If the Saints dont get a legit threat to pair with Graham, they will suffer problems again the next season that they suffered this season.

    This is on offense BTW which has taken a step back and has taken a step back for 2 years going now. Had they been productive on offense like the 2011 season, they would of blown right by Seattle in the playoffs and not lost a couple other games they lost.

  19. jrdbrn says: Jan 23, 2014 8:52 PM

    This issue stems from Brees being paid too much money. Much like the other mega contracts, it limits the money available for other players. It’s pretty simple to understand. There simply is not enough money to pay him like a star receiver.

  20. uncletuna says: Jan 23, 2014 9:20 PM

    With so much cap money allocated to QB Drew Brees, there’s just not enough to commit to TE Jimmy Graham and continue to field a complete team.

    Also, another consideration is Graham struggled against elite CBs when he should have mauled them to want the ball more, exerting some will and his physical advantage.

    Jimmy’s been one of the best Saints stories; ironically, the guy who contributed to his success, Brees, and their agent didn’t leave enough cap room for teammates.

  21. nawlinsgal1 says: Jan 24, 2014 9:04 AM

    Just pay him!!! He is needed!!!

  22. tap79 says: Jan 24, 2014 9:36 AM

    Jimmy is NOT a tight end he is a receiver… He may be labeled a tight end but the guy does not and will not block to save his life… They refuse to give him the WR position because he is too slow.. Dont get me wrong the guy can catch a ball but being the greatest TE ever… He doesnt even come close. Tony Gonzalez and Dave Casper were the best ever…..

  23. larryjames836 says: Jan 24, 2014 11:04 PM

    Jimmy Graham knew 2013 was the end of his contract with the New Orleans Saints. This is to me when a player should give his best at the very end mainly in the Playoff run.

  24. xa713 says: Jan 25, 2014 12:21 AM

    Why is it so darn hard for people to understand that Brees is NOT being overpaid? The market dictates the contract. ALL teams w/ true franchise QBs are in the same situation. Brees’ deal was dictated by the deals that went to Eli Manning, Brady, & Peyton. Brees feasibly could have gotten more money from numerous teams in the open market. I love Graham, but his stats benefit from the Saint’s lack of a true #1 WR. TEs & RBs led out team in receptions which is not good. Graham also benefits from mismatches when he’s covered by slower LBs & smaller S. If he wants to be paid like a top WR, then he needs to prove that he can win matchups against top CBs. So far this hasn’t occurred. He also isn’t a very effective blocker, but he’s still young, learning, & developing. He’s only played football for a few years. Both parties must protect themselves. As far as the cap goes, the Saints will likely do what every other NFL team w/ a franchise QB has done. Rework his deal, reclassify the money to alleviate cap room, etc… Basically, go to the Bank of Brees, just like the Pats went to the Bank of Brady & Indy went to the Bank of Manning a few years ago.

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