Saints, Graham score with long-term deal
July, 15, 2014
By Mike Triplett | ESPN.com
Right about now, both Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints should be spiking footballs over the goalpost.
This is how it was always supposed to end, with the two sides finding a way to keep Graham where he belongs.
I'm sure one side or the other might feel like it got the better end of the deal. From where I sit, the Saints got a bit of a bargain by having to pay Graham "only" $10 million per season over four years, with $21 million in guarantees, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.
But obviously Graham won't be sulking after becoming the highest-paid tight end in NFL history. And the four-year deal will give him a chance at another huge payday when he's just 31 years old.
Graham sure seemed happy (on Twitter, anyway) when he was the one who actually broke the news Tuesday morning with this declaration:
It's official I'm bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support.— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) July 15, 2014
Is he a tight end? A wide receiver? Who cares? Graham gets to stay in a Sean Payton offense that has proved it can exploit him as one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the NFL.
Remember when Graham said he wanted to retire whenever Drew Brees retires, so he wouldn't have to play with any other quarterback? Sure, he was probably at least half-joking, but that's how Graham should feel. There's not a better combination of coach, quarterback and unique offensive weapon in the league than Payton, Brees and Graham. Now they can get back to the business of piling up touchdowns, adding to Graham's league-leading total of 36 touchdown catches over the past three years.
And they can start working together toward winning a Super Bowl -- a goal that just became more doable.
It would be easy to sit here and say the two sides should have signed this deal six months ago. Or a year ago. Because it always felt inevitable that they would find a way to get it done before the July 15 deadline.
However, I don't blame Graham's camp for trying to maximize his earning potential through the franchise-tag grievance he filed, trying to be declared a receiver instead of a tight end. Neither will the Saints. They understand the business, and this was a unique deal with a groundbreaking type of player.
I'm not sure if Graham will feel any lingering resentment toward the Saints for aggressively shooting down that grievance, with both Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis testifying against him. But he shouldn't, for the same reasons. That's what they had to do to keep his price tag from soaring above $12 million per year.
In the end, it was up to both sides to make sure they didn't stretch their leverage too far. It was up to both sides to make sure they were flexible enough to get this deal done and try to make everyone happy. And this one seems to fit the bill.
For that, both sides should be congratulated.