NFL may be pushing for a Graham settlement

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With the Jimmy Graham grievance hearing completed and the outcome now in the hands of an arbitrator, some league insiders believe that the NFL wants to see the player and the team take a page from Terrell Suggs and the Ravens, circa 2008.

Six years ago, Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome and agent Gary Wichard (who died in 2011) resolved among themselves the question of whether Suggs is a linebacker or a defensive end for purposes of the franchise tag.  While the Saints have done a very effective job of creating the impression that they have nothing to do with the position that Graham’s position for franchise-tag purposes should be tight end not receiver, the reality is that the Saints have plenty to gain — and plenty to lose — based on the outcome.  With $5.3 million in cash and cap space hinging on the question of whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver for tag purposes, the Saints undoubtedly want the number to be lower.  Especially since the $12.3 million receiver tag would lay the foundation for a far pricier long-term deal.

With Suggs, the two sides worked out a one-year franchise tender and then struck a long-term deal in 2009.  With Graham, the best outcome for everyone would be a long-term deal forged during this period of uncertainty regarding the outcome of the grievance.

Of course, that would require the Saints to deviate from their apparent preference to work out a new deal on the latest possible date.  In this case, the deadline for a long-term deal arrives on July 15.

The Saints pushed it to the limit two years ago with Drew Brees, losing along the way a grievance that seemed far more winnable than the current one.  Brees argued that, if the Saints (who applied the franchise tag in 2012) were to tag him again in 2013, he’d be entitled not to a 20-percent raise but a whopping 44-percent raise, since it would be the third time in his career that Brees drew the franchise tag.  (The Chargers tagged him in 2005.)  The argument seemed weak and flimsy and unsupported by the plain language of the labor deal.  And yet Brees still won.

Maybe the Saints should consider that precedent now.  While the team has arguments about which it feels very strongly, losing the Graham grievance would be far less surprising than losing the Brees grievance.  If they do, it will cost $12.3 million to keep Graham for 2014, $14.76 million for 2015, and $21.25 million for 2016.

That’s $48.31 million over three years on a year-to-year approach, if Graham chooses to take the Walter Jones approach and assume the injury risk for as long as the Saints are willing to continue using the tag.

If the Saints don’t want to pay a guy they regard as a tight end $14.76 million in 2015 or $21.25 million in 2016, then he’ll hit the open market and go to the highest bidder.

For all those reasons and plenty of others (including the sending of a message to young players that they’ll be rewarded for their efforts without a protracted fight and/or protracted delays), the Saints would be wise to find a way to work this out.

If Graham wins his grievance, they’ll wish they had.

64 responses to “NFL may be pushing for a Graham settlement

  1. Already too late to be “sending of a message to young players that they’ll be rewarded for their efforts without a protracted fight and/or protracted delays”

    The 2 best players on the team, Brees, and no Graham, have both had to go through long, ugly fights to get paid. I think it’s pretty much a given this is how it works in NO

  2. The nflpa would be well served forcing jimmy not to settle. He’s the perfect test case. His guaranteed and RIGHTFUL win would set up all future pass catching tight ends. To do so… Nflpa can easily pay jimmy the difference if by some miracle he loses. GO JIMMY!!! Screw these penny pinching owners!

  3. I can see the NFL colluding /forcing the Saints to give him close to the receiver tag. They’re afraid of rising salaries cutting into their untaxed billions. If they lose the arbitration, they would essentially screw the rest of the league’s salary structure. The NFL has no shame anymore when it comes to greed.

  4. This issue is between the NFLPA and the NFL, NOT Jimmy Graham and the Saints. A ruling in JG favor would have far greater implications to the league than just one franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if Benson told Goodell to suck on it!

  5. The winning argument: TE on facebook and Twitter, TE in fantasy, drafted as a TE, TE in pro Bowl, TE in gameday program and website depth chart, his mamma calls him a TE – he’s a TE.

    If the Saints and NFL use that approach … how can they lose? As long as the judge is laughing.

    Of course the Saints want to settle. The loser always blinks.

  6. The saints are in the trenches against their best offensive weapon and fighting him tooth and nail. Tell me again why any star would want to sign with them again?

  7. As a seahawks fan i would love to see graham get paid because it will destroy their salary cap.

    Meaning the nfc championship will not be going through the Dome anytime soon

  8. Both sides want a long term deal and they know it will be 10-15% higher than the deal the Patriots gave Gronk. A year or more of both sides agitating each other will all be for nothing.

  9. If he hit the open market, teams would line up to sign him. And many of them would probably offer WR money.

    I think that alone should tell you that his argument is correct. Hopefully the Saints realize this.

  10. If the Bears want to list Alshon Jeffery as a tight end to get a lower franchise number on him what is to stop them? The language in the CBA that says a player’s position is where he lines up 50% of the time. Jimmy Graham is valuable because he has elite receiving skills. He lines up in the slot or wide 67% of the time. That means that under the CBA he is considered a receiver.

    This isn’t about what he is listed as on the depth chart. This isn’t about what he calls himself. This is about what the players and teams agreed he would be classified as.

    I can see from the comments that the Saints have made headway with their argument he is a tight end amongst lay people. But the arbitrator is a lawyer and as such he/she has experience construing contracts. The clause classifying a player based on where he plays is tough to construe in the Saints favor. And I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Graham’s value is as a receiver, he should not be hurt by the fact he lines up next to the tackle on 33% of plays.

    Saints should be paying the man his money.

  11. One more thing: if the CBA defined tight ends as lining up on the line next to the tackle 20% or more of the time, Saints obviously win. mSaints are acting like that’s the case but that language isn’t there.

    One other thought: if I’m Jimmy Graham and I somehow lose this argument, is there anything to stop him from demanding to be listed as a wide receiver? Can he refuse to play next to the tackle?

    Could a team force a guy like Deshaun Jackson to be a tight end? I guess what I’m getting at is whether the player-team contracts specify a position or not. Because if they don’t and I somehow lose this I am demanding to play wide receiver next season.

  12. If they don’t reach a settlement and it is rule that Graham should be paid WR money, he’ll never play another down in New Orleans.

    And he’ll end up with far less money elsewhere. The Saints have already offered to make him the highest paid tight end in NFL history. No other team in the NFL will match that money.

  13. This is nothing but a stupid exercise in semantics, he’s called a tight end, but he is NOT known for being the league’s best blocker (btw receivers block too!). If he catches the ball, he’s a receiver! If it quacks like a duck… duh!

  14. The Saints already offered him a contract that would of paid him over 10 million dollars a year and he rejected it. He wants Megatron money which is something he doesn’t deserve, his blocking is subpar, disappears in big games and benefits from matchups with slower LBs. He’s a great player but he’s not worth ruining their cap situation over.

  15. It is in both parties to settle. The Saints for obvious reasons.

    Graham because if the Saints want to really be bastards, they can tag him this year and make sure he lines up against the line every play next year. That would his tag number, and then probably drop his FA number because teams will see that he can’t play his current position that well, and we see how he acts when he is in hybrid, they won’t want to have the same issue, and he is definitely not a WR.

  16. Just trade him or cut him. He is good, but he is not a franchise receiver. Put him on the outside every play, one on one with a corner and see what happens. As a Saints fan I don’t want to spend that much on him. See ya.

  17. Apparently some people have no clue or just can’t read. This isn’t a fight between the saints and graham at all. It’s a fight between graham and the nfl. Saints will suffer consequences if graham wins the hearing but so will the entire nfl and it will change everything. Saints will sign him to a long term deal whenever they figure out what the nfl wants to call him. He’s the new te in today’s nfl.

  18. Can’t believe all this squabbling. He is is football player if he is important to your team pay the man a fair price to try and keep him regardless of position. His career is short if he wants more and you don’t want to pay it he’s gone. But he is a big asset to your team so you don’t want him to go without getting something in return so trade him it’s business just like when a player has no use for your club anymore you call it a business decision.

  19. It’s funny reading the comments from Saints fans who want to get rid of him, objectively if you look at the Saints offense and take away Jimmy Graham, which players scare other teams? He’s the best player on the Saints offense without him they take a major step back.

    And to the argument that no one else would pay him…are you insane? Do you not follow free agency? Teams give mediocre players superstar size contracts every year, if a very good player like Graham becomes available he’s going to get paid.

  20. Can’t wait until the judge tells graham he’s a tight end so he can shut up and move on.

    But I have a feeling that if he loses, we are not going to see the same productivity out of Graham.

  21. Didn’t Green Bay go through this a few years ago before signing a short extension with Jermichael Finley?

  22. They need new franchise tag numbers for hybrid players like Graham. He’s legitimately being screwed with the cap number for tight ends rather than his value to the team. However, he’s not a top 10 WR either.

  23. Jimmy deserves to be the highest paid TE in the NFL and in the same range as a top 10 receiver; he does not deserve Megatron money. Anyone who says he does is either not very smart or a Saints hater who wants to pile on.

    I saw where Forbes listed the top 50 highest paid athletes this year; Brees wasn’t on the list, but Romo, ryan, flacco and Stafford were, so, yeah, clearly Brees is overpaid ( sarcasm voice in play).

  24. They should change the Franchise Tag rules. It should be based on your numbers from the season before, rather then position. The rules now work fine for linemen though.

  25. Really Florio…?”if Graham wins the grievance…” ? Seriously..? Jimmy Graham plays in the middle of the field- His skill set is a mismatch for LB’s (Athleticism) , and for safeties (Height). Quit looking at his catches, yards, and TD’s and comparing him to Elite WR’s. Those Elite WR’s are battling with CB’s week in / week out! CB ‘s are the best athletes in the NFL. When you look at Calvin’s stats, they are against CB’s. Jimmy’s stats against safeties and LB’s are impressive, but against CB’s week in/ week out, he wouldn’t be able to cut the mustard as a WR! Jimmy doesn’t make hay by running precision speed routes, he makes it by settling into a zone (a rather large area) that is covered (or not) by a 5’10″” safety. When the Saints played the Patriots last year, Bill put Talib on Graham….Graham had 0 catches, for 0 yards and 0 TD’s! If Graham were asked to do what Calvin or Wes do every week, he’d be a below average Possession receiver with 45-50 catches, 350 yards and 3 TD’s/ year. Top 5 WR $$$$$ is stupid!

  26. I just love the post that blames Brees for making too much money, like no other top name QB,s don’t. Manning, Brady, Flaco etc. If you are a top tier QB in the NFL you get paid, and get paid plenty. As for tge Graham deal, the Saints want to keep him, but they also know that they can win without him too…

  27. I don’t know how he can win! He is a TE. A crappy blocking TE, but still a TE. He has made the Pro Bowl, as a TE. He was drafted as a TE. Set single season receptions as a TE. This is a joke!

  28. How many wide receivers play on the line ever much less 30% of the snaps. Not too mention another 35% of the snaps as the inside receiver. He is a tight end am any logical football person cannot argue against it. The only problem is that I am not sure the arbitrators are football people.

  29. Love all these comments about Graham being the Saints best offensive weapon. Without Drew he’s a former basketball player trying to make it in another sport

  30. What everyone seems to be missing/forgetting is the Saints have ALREADY offer Graham “receiver money” – 5 years, $10.5 million per year. Gronkowski only makes $9 million per year. Graham wants $14 million per year. Ludicrous!!!

  31. The Saints have had one of the top 10 payrolls prior to the Brees situation two years ago and Graham’s current situation so stop all of the dumb comments about how they are reluctant to pay their players. This (if ruled in Graham’s favor) will affect ALL teams sooner or later and will give the OLB vs. DE debate more leverage as there are plenty OLBs with double-digit sacks year in and year out who will be cashing in at the expense of the other players/positions. And yes, sooner or later, it will affect YOUR team.

  32. Define it by catches. If a TE averages over 60 then he deserves to paid like a WR. If the TE primarily blocks then they get TE money but will never likely be tagged. The Saints are up against the cap and probably can’t afford to pay Graham like a WR though.

  33. One reason Graham lines up outside and not beside the tackle is that he is a terrible blocker. But he is still a TE! Like has been said, when he is covered by a corner like vs NE, he is shutdown. He can only win the receiving battle vs LBs and safeties. When the Saints need blocking from a TE they bring in Ben Watson or another TE. If Graham had to work from beside the tackle like a lot of TEs, he wouldnt be in the top 20 TEs in the league. He is really looking the gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, with his greed! If the Saints wanted to teach him a lesson they should stop splitting him out and make him line up beside the tackle like most TEs next yr. He wouldnt have the numbers everyone keeps referring to, to make an arguement for the ridiculous amt of money he wants!

  34. You people act like the Saints wont pay him. They will eventually but have to consider the cap. Regardless if he wins then they will sign him to a long term deal. If not theyll tag him and then sign him next year. Its funny to hear people complain about Lawyers and yet will side with them when itll hurt the Saints. Everyone knows that hes a TE. Even he knows it. If anything he lined up at the slot more than outside. So then pay him slot WR money which is right around the same for top TE money.

  35. If jimmy Graham wins he still loses cause he will be on another team and that team will pay him a lot of money but that team has no shawn peyton are a drew brees that makes jimmy graham. And if that does happen they will get just a regualar tight end and not a blocking tight end. Any team that gets jimmy other than the saints will not get what they see in new orleans thats for sure. Now if jimmy loses then he is still screwed because they will put him in tight end sets where he has to block and that my friends will kill anything that he needs to try and go to another team the following year. I which we release him next year and the money goes down when someone else see’s him cause jimmy played tight end for blocking and not a pass catcher with the saints and he is screwed!! See my point. Jimmy the best things is to take the money we offer you and stay are become a has been some where else!! With out shawn peyton and drew brees your pratically a regualar tight end with no blocking skills !!!

  36. How good would Graham be now if Sean Payton wasn’t the one who took a risky a chance on drafting him with only one year of college experience? How good would Graham be now if it hadn’t been Drew Brees throwing him the ball? Even with a franchise tag, Graham will be the highest paid tight end with his long term contract. So what is everyone squawking about?

  37. New Orleans are in real serious trouble if Jimmy Graham wins his grievance (and there is a good chance he may succeed). They don’t have the cap space to pay much more and would be forced to make significant cuts. Mickey Loomis is a magician with the cap but he has no more tricks up his sleeve.
    This is much bigger than most NFL fans realize. If it was a free market, Jimmy would probably earn a lot more than the TE franchise tag offers.

  38. The entire NFL is in trouble if he wins the grievance. The Saints will find a way to sign him to a long- term cap-friendly deal but the latter years of a long-term deal is where it will hurt.

  39. Graham had better plan on retiring before long if he wins this thing, after all, who do you think is actually going to sign him as a WR afterwards. He’s not remotely fast enough, or quick enough to play the position full time against the kind of players who normally cover WR’s.

  40. Here’s the thing about this whole fight; if the Saints, in fact, win arbitration, and Graham is labeled a TE, the Saints will still ultimately lose. Because Jimmy Graham sure as hell will not take the field, bust his ass, and risk injury, while playing on a 1-year deal, where he feels he is being underpaid.

    You and I know whether Graham mails it in this year and puts up mediocre numbers, he sure as hell will still get a nice long-term deal the following year from some team. However, if Graham tries his hardest, and gets hurt, he stands to lose millions in guaranteed money in future deals.

    So, Saints fans you can either see a handsomely paid Graham, who catches 10-12 TDs next year, or a disgruntled Graham, who will largely be a non-factor next year. Which Graham do you think it will be?

  41. Anyone thinking the Saints only tagged him so they could screw him out of what he could get anywhere else is delusional. The tag price of tight ends reflects primarily blocking tight ends, not receiving tight ends often playing the slot. The NFL franchise tag rules are not flexible enough to define his position accurately and the Saints are taking advantage rather than let him negotiate on the free agent market. It’s a can of worms for the NFL no matter who wins–because it exposes the flaws in their system. You bet they’d like it to go away. I don’t understand how the Saints expect to win games with a pissed off Graham in the locker room.

  42. Tight End. End of story.

    Drafted as a Tight end.
    Designated as a Tight end.
    Set records as a Tight end.
    Always referred to himself and identified himself as a Tight end.
    Selected as a Tight end for All-Pro and Pro Bowl.
    Tight ends line up as receivers all the time. Wide receivers never line up as Tight ends.

    Now that it’s time to get paid, he wants to be a Wide receiver.

  43. jimmy can’t do what Drew is doing for the team i think 10 million is enough. that’s his greedy agent in his ear hes got to get his cut.

  44. The saints aren’t in any trouble if you can’t pay him let him walk one man don’t make a team.

  45. atwatercrushesokoye says:
    Jun 22, 2014 12:38 PM

    And to the argument that no one else would pay him…are you insane? Do you not follow free agency? Teams give mediocre players superstar size contracts every year, if a very good player like Graham becomes available he’s going to get paid.


    I’m curious, who do you think is going to pay Graham more than the 10.1 mill/yr that the Saints are offering? That already makes him the highest paid TE and you think teams would offer more?

  46. Whoever wrote this article obviously doesn’t do research. Graham was offered deals prior to last season that were more than Gronk’s. Those offers were declined. Graham’s agent works for CAA, the same firm that Brees’ agent, Tom Condon, does. Both agents are 2 of the best & most powerful in sports. Just like Condon was trying to set a precedent, so is Graham’s agent. Cutting edge deals like this allows these guys to attract the top athletes. It’s the best way to advertise. Graham is super cordial with fans & seems like a bright guy, but I seriously doubt he had any clue of all the legal jargon that’s in the CBA. That’s all agents & lawyers.

  47. A lot of these comments miss the point.

    Yes, Graham is functionally a TE, and in most conventional offenses he would probably not warrant such a huge salary as a TE. But, in Sean Payton’s offense, he is vital because of his speed and playmaking ability, even if he doesn’t face cornerbacks all the time.

    And, the logic that because Graham was shut out by Talib during the New England game ignores the fact that NONE of the Saints WR’s had a particularly stellar game, either. The lack of a genuine game breaker at WR (save for Stills in spurts) was what allowed Belichik’s strategy to work. Stills with another year of work, a healthy Colston, and the addition of Brandon Cooks as the gamebreaker should open up the field plenty more for Graham. Between that and a stronger running game, I don’t see how JG doesn’t improve from last year.

    Also….remember that even if some other team might want to offer the needed $$$ for Graham, there’s still that issue of losing TWO 1st round picks in addition to paying at least $12M/yr to a player who isn’t quite compatible with most offenses.

    And there is another wild card in play here: JeRon Hamm, the draft pick from Louisiana-Monroe, has been getting some high praise from the Saints coaches….which means that if worse comes to worse, the Saints might simply decide to sit on their hands and just turn Graham loose if they feel that Hamm can handle his duties for 1/10th the cost. Losing a talent like Graham would indeed suck, but perhaps the feeling might be that this would actually *help* Brees become more balanced in distributing the ball..and free up Cooks as the main big play threat.

    Personally, though, I think they will settle, and Graham will get his money through a long term deal that will be more cap friendly for the Saints. Probably, a compromise of a “Second 10” WR salary that outdoes Gronk, but not quite Megatron/Dez Bryant/A. C. Green- level.

  48. So some of you think that Graham is the best player on the Saints offense and they would take a major step backwards without him. If I’m not mistaken, the Saints won a Superbowl in 09, without graham. And by the way, when was the last time a tight end won a Superbowl? Other than Seattle fans, does anybody remember who the tight end was for Seattle last year when they won the big game? I doubt it!

  49. At his point I don’t think Graham will settle even for a hybrid long term contract. He will wait until the league tags him as a wide receiver and the Saints will trade him if possible for 2 first round picks. A good deal for the Saints. We can hope it turns out well for all but I doubt it. I still have faith in Mickey Loomis and the coach to do what is right for the Saints. I would hate to see Graham go but business is business!

  50. I think Graham eventually gets a contract for 6 years and about 64 mil with about 30 mil guaranteed!

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