- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I'm going to do -- and I'm going to play -- whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple," Graham said, according to reports by The Times-Picayune and The Advocate.
Graham, who spoke to a group of New Orleans media after a charity event with New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon as part of the NBA's All-Star festivities, insisted that he's not anxious about his upcoming contract talks with the Saints.
When asked "where he stands" on the situation, Graham smiled and said, "For me, I'm just standing. You know, I take every day one day at a time. And I'm just gonna wait and see what happens, to be honest with you."
Graham's contract talks are expected to be groundbreaking -- and possibly contentious. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has already made it clear that the Saints will use the franchise tag on Graham if necessary. That could set off an unprecedented battle before a third-party arbitrator over whether Graham should be officially tagged as a tight end or a receiver.
The one-year franchise tag salary between tight ends and receivers is expected to be around $6.7 million and $11.5 million, respectively, this year.
More importantly, a favorable ruling would give one side serious leverage in their long-term negotiations.
Graham is almost certainly expected to become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history (surpassing the $9 million per year that New England's Rob Gronkowski received in an extension two years ago). But Graham and agent Jimmy Sexton could seek for him to be paid more than $10 million per year -- more in line with the top receivers, based on Graham's lofty receiving numbers. So the battle could linger for a while.
Graham, however, said he isn't planning for any specific scenario or timetable. He said he plans to get back to working out every day later this month at his alma mater, the University of Miami, as he always does in the offseason.
"I have the personality that I work year-round ... doing my due diligence," said Graham, who joked that he will make former Saints teammate Jonathan Vilma work out with him to "keep him skinny."
Those moves were made in part because the Saints needed to trim more than $15 million in salary-cap space to get under the cap and be able to afford new deals for Graham and others. But it wouldn't be fair to draw a direct cause-and-effect between those moves and Graham's contract negotiations. All four veterans were either dealing with injury concerns or playing diminished roles in the rotation.
"First off, you can't ask for four better teammates and people," Graham said when asked for his reaction to those moves. "They've done so much for this community and for me personally. Vilma being my workout partner year-round, that's 365 days a year that I see him and work with him. For me personally, it's very difficult because of the type of people all four of them are. ... It's a tough situation."
6hEric D. Williams
2dBy Ian O'Connor