- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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AVONDALE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints began their offseason conditioning program this week with tight end Jimmy Graham still unsigned. But it’s still too early in the year for anyone to be concerned about his absence.
Graham is not expected to participate in the Saints’ workouts since he’s not under contract. Although the Saints placed the franchise tag on Graham, he hasn’t signed the offer yet. So he’d have to sign a waiver to participate.
Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to indicate Wednesday that he doesn’t expect that to happen when asked if he anticipates Graham joining the team for any workouts.
“I think it’s pretty normal. I think everything the first week was pretty much as expected,” said Payton, who spoke with the media before teeing off in the pro-am at the Zurich Classic PGA tournament.
It’s also highly possible that Graham could miss the Saints’ OTAs and minicamp practices in May and June while the two sides continue to negotiate over a long-term contract extension.
The important deadline is July 15. After that date, franchised players can only sign one-year agreements with their teams. History suggests that the standoff could last right up until the deadline (as was the case with quarterback Drew Brees’ deal when he was franchised in 2012).
Brees spoke confidently about Graham’s situation while appearing on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Wednesday. Brees said he is confident a deal will get done “very soon.”
However, Brees seemed to be speaking in general terms rather than giving any specific insight that a deal is close.
Among other topics Payton discussed Wednesday:
He said the team has not yet made a permanent decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option on running back Mark Ingram’s contract, which would require the Saints to pay him $5.2 million in 2015. The Saints have until May 3 to make that decision, though it seems unlikely that they will. The Saints already exercised their option on defensive end Cameron Jordan earlier this week.
As usual, there was a full-team meeting to kick off the offseason program on Monday. Payton said that’s typically just used to lay out the summer calendar through the start of training camp. He said there hasn’t been much football talk yet. “Really, I think it’s important that in the early stages of all this that the players, when they come to the facility, they feel like they’re coming to lift weights and condition,” Payton said. “There’s so much time for football and X's and O's and all of those other things. Really, it’s just encouraging the way the weight room looks. We have a new nutrition cafe, a lot of different elements that go into just being in really good shape.”
Payton said he believes the Saints’ first preseason game at the St. Louis Rams will be played on Friday, August 8 -- though the specific date hasn’t been announced yet. He said the team will likely open training camp at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia with conditioning tests on Thursday, July 24.
Payton said he doesn’t mind the draft being pushed back this year because it’s beneficial for the team to get more time to study film on players. But he said the longer wait might be “more stressful to the player because I think players then visit more teams, there’s more workouts, they’re pulled a little bit more than maybe normally.”