Graham’s comments not surprising

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
11:00
AM ET
I wasn't surprised to hear that New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham hopes to avoid the franchise tag -- just like I wasn't surprised to hear Saints general manager Mickey Loomis say earlier this week that the team is prepared to use the franchise tag if necessary.

Both statements are no-brainers, and both are usually made whenever a high-profile player heads toward free agency.

In a perfect world, the two sides would get together and work out a new long-term contract before the franchise tag deadline of March 3. But if that doesn't happen, the Saints obviously will use the franchise tag. Of course they will. They're not going to allow Graham the chance to sign with another team. And Graham knows that.

So, none of the comments made so far should be taken as a sign that negotiations have grown contentious already.

However, it is certainly possible that these contract talks will reach a few stress points along the way.

Graham's contract will break new ground, given that he's sure to become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history -- surpassing the $9 million per year average of Rob Gronkowski's 2012 extension with the New England Patriots.

Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, likely will argue that Graham is worth the same money as top receivers who make $10 million per year and more. And one side will gain a lot of leverage if the NFL ultimately rules on whether Graham is considered a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes (last year that meant a difference between a one-year salary of $6 million and one of $10.5 million).

So, these talks could drag out -- just as we saw two years ago when the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees held their ground until July before he became the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history at the time.

The only reason I think it's possible the Saints and Graham could get something done before March 3 is because the Saints have salary-cap constraints and would rather work out a cap-friendly long-term deal than use the franchise tag. But I wouldn't be too optimistic about that.

Ultimately, though, I expect that the two sides eventually will work out a new long-term deal before the start of the 2014 season -- which is the most important thing.

They're a perfect fit for each other. Graham has made no secret about how much he likes playing with Brees -- even joking over the years that he’ll retire when Brees retires. And the Saints feel just as strongly about Graham.

Graham is going to be worth every penny when he becomes the highest-paid tight end in league history. He has been outstanding on the field. Even though he had two quiet games in the playoffs, he was obviously the focal point of both defenses, drawing coverage away from other players. Graham has been the most potent weapon yet for Saints coach Sean Payton, who thrives on exploiting matchup problems.

And Graham has been equally outstanding in ways that transcend the field. He often has played through injuries -- including some significant ones to his foot and wrist in the past two years. And he never complained publicly about his contract or held out while playing at a bargain rate for four years as third-round draft pick.

How do you put a price tag on all of that? It might take awhile, but we'll find out eventually.

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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