Losing Graham seems highly unlikely

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
8:00
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The speculation is mixed on whether another team will make a run at free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham since the New Orleans Saints used the non-exclusive franchise tag on him. But I think it's hard to imagine a scenario where Graham leaves New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesIs tight end Jimmy Graham worth as much as $12 million a year and two first-round picks?
Graham will be allowed to negotiate with other teams, starting Tuesday. But another team would have to both outbid the Saints on a long-term contract offer and be willing to sacrifice two first-round draft picks to pry him away. The Saints would have the right to match any offer Graham signs elsewhere.

For one thing, Graham is happy in New Orleans by all accounts. He presumably wants to stay with Sean Payton and Drew Brees -- as long as the Saints make a competitive offer on a long-term contract. Another team would probably have to offer something around $12 million per year to outbid the Saints.

As I've written several times, I think Graham is worth an awful lot. No matter what position he plays, he ranks right up there with the top five or 10 receiving weapons in the NFL today. If he was an unrestricted free agent, I could definitely see a team being willing to spend that kind of money on him on the open market.

But I would be surprised to see a team willing to pay that kind of money and two first-round picks for any player other than a small handful of franchise quarterbacks.

That's why the Saints used the exclusive franchise tag on Brees two years ago, to prevent him from even talking with other teams. In this case, however, I wasn't surprised the Saints felt comfortable using the non-exclusive tag on Graham.

Still, all it would take is one team that really covets Graham to make things interesting. And much stranger things have happened in the NFL before.

Reports have been mixed on whether it's possible. ESPN's Ed Werder tweeted over the weekend that "One NFL personnel exec told me he could envision a team with franchise-type QB pursuing [Graham]. Seahawks have need, fit criteria."

However, NFL business analyst and former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt tweeted, "Teams are not giving up two #1 picks for a single player. They are among the most valuable currency in the NFL, treasured assets."

Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman had conflicting opinions from NFL officials. He said several general managers believe a handful of franchises are preparing offers to get Graham. He quoted an AFC general manager as saying, "I think the only players more valuable than Jimmy Graham are three or four quarterbacks. That's it."

However, he also quoted a Packers official as saying the idea of Green Bay pursuing Graham is "dumb beyond dumb ... won't happen."

If another team does sign Graham to an offer sheet, then it would be the Saints who need to decide if they want to match that offer or sacrifice the chance at two additional first-round draft picks. That would be a tough choice. But I think it's unlikely they'll be presented with that scenario.

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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