The Saints don’t want to lose Jimmy Graham in free agency and will almost certainly do whatever it takes to keep him. Which means they won’t be able to keep some of their other key players.
Saints coach Sean Payton said as much in an interview on FOX Sports 1, saying that the Saints will work very hard at getting a deal done with Graham even as they know that with the NFL’s salary cap, every dollar they commit to Graham is a dollar they can’t spend elsewhere.
“With that being said, the first thing that comes to my mind with free agency is your own roster,” Payton said, via the Times-Picayune. “I think often times that gets overlooked. The most challenging part of your job as a coach, and I share that with [G.M. Mickey Loomis] or anyone that has been with an organization as long as we have been, going on year nine, is some of the tough decisions that have to be made with regards to your cap with the ability that you possibly can sign Jimmy Graham.”
The first issue the Saints have to deal with is whether Graham will be considered a tight end or a wide receiver for purposes of the franchise tag. The Saints will want to have the ability to tag him for a $6.8 million tender offer, which is the tight end amount, while Graham will want to be tendered at $11.6 million, the wide receiver amount.
Even if the Saints are able to tag Graham as a tight end, they don’t have much cap space in the first place, and there may not be room under the cap for other soon-to-be free agents including safety Malcolm Jenkins, tackle Zach Strief and center Brian de la Puente. Players who may need to be cut in order for the Saints to get under the cap include linebacker Will Smith, safety Roman Harper, receiver Lance Moore, defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley, cornerback Jabari Greer and running back Pierre Thomas.
Those are all tough decisions. Keeping Graham, on the other hand, won’t be a tough decision. Just an expensive one.