Graham’s deal will likely pay him well, but how well?

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As a tight end, Jimmy Graham would have made $7 million this year under the franchise tag.  As a receiver, he would have made $12.3 million.

The deal that the Saints had put on the table months ago would have paid Graham $9.5 million per year.  Which roughly splits the difference between the two numbers.

But when the real numbers come out — not the generic reports of “guaranteed” money that isn’t really guaranteed and/or “up to” values that don’t reflect what the actual value of the deal — it will be important to look at three key factors.

1.  How much money is fully guaranteed at signing?

With Graham poised to get a fully-guaranteed base salary of $7 million with the stroke of a pen, the rules would have entitled him to a crack at the open market next March or a 2015 guaranteed salary of $8.4 million.  Which means that, if he had avoided a serious injury in 2014, he would have gotten at least $15.4 million over the next two years.

Anything less than $15.4 million in fully guaranteed money at signing, then, would be regarded as a not-so-good deal.  Anything less than $7 million fully guaranteed at signing would be viewed as a horrible deal.

2.  How much money will Graham make over the first three years?

Once upon a time, contracts carried signing bonuses so large that, as a practical matter, the team wouldn’t cut the player for at least three years.  Which made the three-year value of the contract a key number.

In recent years, teams have shifted to pay-as-you-go guaranteed money that isn’t really guaranteed, giving teams an annual opportunity to cut the cord, Kaepernick-style.

Even if Graham won’t get a franchise-quarterback signing bonus in the range of $30 million, his expected three-year haul will be intriguing because he could have opted to go year-to-year under the franchise tag, making $15.4 million in the next two seasons and then hitting the open market in lieu of being tagged at the quarterback level, possibly landing $20 million or more in fully guaranteed money on top of the $15.4 million already earned.

That’s $35.4 million in hand between now and March 2016.  How much he’ll actually earn through the 2016 season needs to be compared to that.

3.  When must the Saints make an annual keep-or-cut decision?

The Graham deal possibly will have a structure that pays him significant guaranteed-for-injury-only money in future years, with a date each offseason when the money becomes fully guaranteed.  The earlier the deadline, the better for the player.

The best deadline comes at the start of the waiver period immediately after the Super Bowl.  The next-best deadline comes at or about the start of the league year in March.  The worst deadline comes several weeks later, like on April 1 or thereafter.

Even worse than that is no deadline at all, which allows the team to pull a Chris Johnson or a Brandon Flowers, waiting to cut the cord until it’s far too late to get big money elsewhere.

So once the real numbers come out — not the phony, preliminary, puffed-up numbers — we’ll break it all down from the perspective of those three factors.

6 responses to “Graham’s deal will likely pay him well, but how well?

  1. I honestly don’t care how much players get paid and frankly get tired of hearing about it. The root problem with these situations is the lust over money, GREED. I always thought if I played professional sports I would play for free and make my money from endorsements. So the real question is, would you do what you do for free? I chose to be a firefighter because I would do it for free. It’s a profession I chose simply because of that. If I were to let money get in the way of my happiness and not rely on it to make me happy then I have faith that my happiness would be fulfilled from serving a higher purpose. I don;t care if Joe Blow makes more me, especially if we are doing the same work/profession. You can serve $, but is the the message we want to teach our children. To “get while you can, and get the most” motto is not the legacy i’ll be leaving behind.

  2. Skunk, I can guarantee you wouldn’t play for free. Also, only the top players get any sort of endorsement at all. When bills have to be paid, you’ll be rethinking your claim to be playing for free.

  3. Skunk,
    It’s never too late to play organized sports for free. You can join a local adult sports league and still be a role model for the neighborhood kids.

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