Contrary to reports, suggestions, and/or speculation that Wednesday’s ruling from arbitrator Stephen Burbank re-set the negotiations on a long-term deal between the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham to square one, a source with knowledge of the discussions tells PFT that the Saints have not reduced or yanked their offer.
The Saints haven’t, and won’t, use the ruling that Graham is a tight end for franchise tag purposes to alter a proposal that would make Graham the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, with a package worth $9.5 million per year.
The Saints likewise have no animosity or frustration to Graham for attempting to advance an interpretation of the labor deal that would have entitled him to a franchise tender of $12.3 million. The team understands that those efforts are part of the business of the sport, and the team believes that Graham’s camp realizes the same thing regarding the team’s efforts to keep the franchise tender at $7 million.
And the team remains very confident that a long-term deal will be reached by the July 15 deadline. At $9.5 million per year with a considerable chunk of fully guaranteed money up front, Graham will have a hard time rejecting the offer and taking a year-to-year approach that would pay $7 million in 2014, $8.4 million in 2015, and quarterback money of $16 million or so in 2016.
That’s $30 million over three years, but with Graham carrying the injury risk each and every season. If the Saints fully guarantee an amount equal or greater to the first two years ($15.4 million) and offer a total package in the range of $30 million over the first three years, it’s a no-brainer that Graham will take the offer.
He could still file an appeal and take his chances on the higher franchise tender before the three-person appeal panel, but he hasn’t done so yet. He probably will if a deal isn’t reached before the 10-day deadline for filing an appeal. The goal in delaying the filing of the grievance from late February to late April apparently was to ensure that the issue would not be completely resolved by July 15, guaranteeing Graham some extra leverage as his agents try to get the average value of the deal to $10 million or more.
Within 11 days, look for Graham and the Saints to finalize a long-term deal. Which means that the tight-end-versus-receiver question for tag purposes won’t be officially resolved. Which means that Julius Thomas or someone else may be fighting that battle again in the future.