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Taking a closer look at the Jimmy Graham offer sheet dilemma

Jimmy Graham AP

The looming franchise-tag fight between the NFL/Saints and the NFLPA/Jimmy Graham on the question of whether he’s a tight end or a receiver (he reportedly was going to file a grievance “immediately,” but he hasn’t yet) quickly becomes moot if another team signs Graham to an offer sheet.

Once that occurs, only one issue would remain:  Will the Saints match the offer within five days?  If yes, he’s under contract with the Saints.  If no, he becomes property of the team that made the offer.

Of course, the team that made the offer also would be required to send a pair of first-round draft picks to the Saints.  In recent days, there has been plenty of reporting, speculation, and debate regarding whether Graham is worth a pair of first-round picks.  As the official launch of the ability to recruit and sign Graham approaches, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First, any team that signs Graham to an offer sheet must have a first-round pick to give.  The Colts, therefore, can’t even consider it, since their first-round pick was sent to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson during the 2013 season.

Second, a team that acquires a first-round pick from another team still must send its own pick.  The Browns, for example, wouldn’t be able to dangle the first-round pick they acquired from the Colts (26th overall).  The Browns would have to send their own pick, the fourth overall in the 2014 draft.

Third, the team could wait to sign Graham to an offer sheet after the 2014 draft, which would result in the 2015 first-round pick and the 2016 first-round pick becoming the compensation, if the offer sheet isn’t matched.

Fourth, while the “poison pill” is no longer available, a team could load up the offer to have a huge cap number in 2014, via a large base salary or roster bonus.  That’s a legitimate way to make it impossible for the Saints to match the offer.

With those factors in mind, let’s consider some of the teams that may think about making a run at Graham.

Seahawks:  Seattle seems to be the first team that comes up when this topic is broached.  As a practical matter, it could create some issues for the defending champions.  First, the already have more than $13 million in 2014 cap space devoted to Percy Harvin, for whom they gave up last year’s first-round pick, and more.  Second, the Seahawks need to pay some of the guys who have directly contributed to the Super Bowl win.  If the players who have been there don’t get paid and outsiders do, it’ll be hard to keep everyone happy.

Packers:  It’s not in G.M. Ted Thompson’s DNA to make a big splash in free agency.  He’d never give up two first-round picks (or even one) for a player with four years in the league.  Besides, the Packers need to invest not in their offense but in their defense.

Cardinals:  It’s an intriguing possibility mentioned by Erik Kuselias while I was visiting on Thursday morning the radio show that curiously bears his name.  With an extra $9.4 million in cap space from the restructuring of Larry Fitzgerald’s contract, the Cardinals could make the ultimate all-in move by adding Graham.  But they’d probably need more cap space in order to come up with an offer that the Saints would have no choice but to refuse.

Patriots:  Too much money already has been invested in Rob Gronkowski, even though Graham has proven to be the far more durable player.  Like the Packers, the big spending would be more appropriately focused on the defensive side of the ball.

Chiefs:  They gave up two second-round picks last year for Alex Smith.  Under that standard, two first-round picks for Graham doesn’t seem so crazy.  The Chiefs would need to create plenty of cap space before considering such a move.

Browns:  While it would be foolish to give up the fourth overall pick (plus their first-round pick in 2015) for Graham, the Browns could be tempted to push their chips to the middle of the table after using their first-round pick in 2014.  Signing Graham would be the perfect ending to a period of significant dysfunction, especially if the fourth pick in 2014 ends up becoming their latest quarterback of the future.

Dolphins:  This is another post-draft possibility.  They’ve got the cap space, but they’ve already committed a ton of money to receiver Mike Wallace.  From a business standpoint, they could use the boost that would come from bringing Graham back to Miami, where he played college football.

It remains unlikely that any team would swap two first-round picks for Graham.  The Saints likely assume it won’t happen.  If they thought it would, they would have applied the exclusive version of the franchise tag to Graham, like they did two years ago with quarterback Drew Brees.

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23 Responses to “Taking a closer look at the Jimmy Graham offer sheet dilemma”
  1. micknangold says: Mar 6, 2014 2:03 PM

    I wonder…if Graham winds up getting himself considered a WR for tag purposes, will that lead to front offices telling offensive coaches not to line them up off the line of scrimmage so much? Not that any coach worth a damn would cave to that nonsense, but it could definitely lead to some “thrifty” teams looking to save dough if they’ve got a TE they want to keep on the cheap. Something to think about until free agency starts.

  2. micknangold says: Mar 6, 2014 2:05 PM

    As an aside, any team willing to give up two first-rounders for anyone besides a QB who’s won a Super Bowl and consistently puts up All-Pro numbers is out of it’s damn mind.

  3. vtopa says: Mar 6, 2014 2:07 PM

    HE’s going to be a Saint people. Mickey Loomis is a wizard with contracts and Graham knows he will not have the kind of success he’s had with the Saints on ANY other team.

    Saints. Period.

  4. chargersdiehard says: Mar 6, 2014 2:11 PM

    The Pats don’t exactly have good luck with tight ends lately.

  5. flannlv says: Mar 6, 2014 2:17 PM

    ‘It remains unlikely that any team would swap two first-round picks for Graham. The Saints likely assume it won’t happen. If they thought it would, they would have applied the exclusive version of the franchise tag to Graham, like they did two years ago with quarterback Drew Brees ‘

    The Saints placed the non-exclusive tag on Graham because they felt comfortable that even if a team tendered an offer, the Saints could match or live without him. Loomis is playing chess, not checkers.

  6. nickyleacy says: Mar 6, 2014 2:29 PM

    As a Dolphins fan, I’d obviously love to have Graham but with the strength of this year’s draft I really think there will be a top player available at #19 (Whether Hickey can identify and then select one of these players is another thing).

    Also who knows where our draft pick next year will be. Don’t want to pull a Redskins and give away a top 5 pick next year.

  7. sinisterg says: Mar 6, 2014 2:36 PM

    Arizona seems to be the best fit for Graham, he can replace Housler. Their O-line will be better with Cooper coming back. Also their D is no joke. They could be the first NFL team to host a SB at home.

  8. naes says: Mar 6, 2014 2:37 PM

    It would be funny if he went to the Cardinals. The Seahawks and 49ers would both completely shut him down 4 times per year. He’d probably have a rough go against the Rams too.

    I really don’t get the hype with this guy. He doesn’t block and he appeared to quit in the playoff game vs the Seahawks. Seems like a product of Payton+Brees+fast track during home games. I’d take a pass.

  9. jgd3rd says: Mar 6, 2014 2:40 PM

    Has any team ever given up two #1’s for any player? I don’t remember it ever happening.

  10. The Great Ted Thompson the Genius says: Mar 6, 2014 2:45 PM

    Actually, it makes a lot of sense for the Packers to make a run at Graham. Those two first-round picks will just be used on terrible players anyway, so why not get a proven commodity?

  11. dukeearl says: Mar 6, 2014 3:05 PM

    If it is determined that he is a WR, will the Saints cut him?
    If so, then a team going after him won’t have to give up any picks.
    Other than that I believe the option is to negotiate and lose him, or offer the WR franchise price and keep him….

    Not sure I like New Orleans chances in this.

  12. txfinfan says: Mar 6, 2014 3:10 PM

    I’d like to see Miami resign Keller. He was Tannehill’s favorite target before he got hurt. He’s big and has good hands. If he’s healthy he would make a nice compliment to Clay…

  13. kwjsb says: Mar 6, 2014 3:23 PM

    “Browns: While it would be foolish to give up the fourth overall pick (plus their first-round pick in 2015) for Graham”

    Also. they already have a younger version of Graham in All Pro Jordan Cameron.

  14. ghlatty says: Mar 6, 2014 3:56 PM

    Saints will not cut Graham, but brilliant move by the Saints to place the non-exclusive tag on him. Considering Ben Watson, 2 first round picks and saving lotsa $$$, it would be hard to match a high offer from another team.

  15. axespray says: Mar 6, 2014 4:22 PM

    Last All Pro Tight End to win a superbowl?
    Seahawks had Miller who …meh.
    Dennis Pitta for the Ravens is meh.
    Jake Ballard?
    Andrew Quarless?
    I guess Jeremy Shockey?

  16. iamkillerfin says: Mar 6, 2014 4:37 PM

    Graham would be a dream for my Fins BUT giving 2 #1 picks for him is not worth it!!! We have a great TE, we need O LINE help FIRST!!!

  17. miamisam1966 says: Mar 6, 2014 4:38 PM

    This is a stupid article, NO team is giving up 2 #1 picks and a huge contract for a TE. You would only do that for an elite QB.

  18. iamrudyrock says: Mar 6, 2014 5:04 PM

    Did they completely forget about the Oakland Raiders who have like over $60 million in cap space to play with… If any team is desperate enough to make a move I think it would be them….

  19. ronrivers says: Mar 6, 2014 5:09 PM

    Not that I’d ever think it would happen, but I’d have included the Lions on that list. Lions’ OC was with Jimmy Graham for his whole career in New Orleans, Brandon Pettigrew wasn’t tagged and I have a feeling there’s at least one team willing to pay more than the Lions for his services, and the Lions have unsuccessfully spent the last 5 or so years trying to find a second receiving threat to Calvin.

    If they sign Suh to a long-term deal, they can’t afford a fourth big contract, and I’m not sure you can justify investing that much into the passing game along with CJ and Stafford, but that won’t stop me from dreaming of the possibilities!

  20. tigerlilac says: Mar 6, 2014 5:50 PM

    I don’t know how they could do it cap wise but it would be an intriguing move by the Patriots. Two late first round picks to secure a player to take full advantage of Tom Brady’s last three to five years, and the next two years in particular. Does Belichick do it to try to secure a Super Bowl in the few years he and Tom have left together?

  21. tigerlilac says: Mar 6, 2014 6:29 PM

    One other reason for the Patriots to go after Graham. He fills there need at both tight end and outside receiver. Belichick loves guys that can play versatile roles and Graham does that, alas, without excellent blocking skills.

  22. hawkforlife says: Mar 6, 2014 7:39 PM

    @naes

    Exactly, you called it. Why, given the way the Seahawks shut him down would they even consider him. Silly article.

  23. vikescry1 says: Mar 7, 2014 8:46 AM

    vtopa says:
    Mar 6, 2014 2:07 PM
    HE’s going to be a Saint people. Mickey Loomis is a wizard with contracts and Graham knows he will not have the kind of success he’s had with the Saints on ANY other team.

    Saints. Period.

    ——————————————————————————————————————————– sounds like somebody is scared they might lose jimmy??? i believe he could have success in greenbay and new england or denver. lmao don’t worry the only team with a dumb enough gm to trade away the future id jerry jones in dallas, wait could he do it??? lol

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