Unable to negotiate a long-term extension with their star Tight End, the New Orleans Saints chose to use the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham last week. The stage has now been set for a long, drawn out negotiating battle with Graham and his agent Jimmy Sexton in the coming months. With little cap space to work with, the Saints must also focus on keeping hold of a handful of valuable players who are set to become free agents of both the restricted and unrestricted variety. Nevertheless, General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton remain confident that things will shake themselves out in the near future.
Ideally, the Saints would be able to agree to terms on a fair, long-term contract that would ultimately lower Graham's cap figure enough to shift their attention to retaining unrestricted free agents such as RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente and LB Parys Haralson. In addition, restricted free agents such as S Rafael Bush and FB Jed Collins are also in the team's scope, but extra cap space will not magically appear. The Saints have already released 3 veteran defensive starters in Roman harper, Will Smith and Jabari Greer in an effort to maximize their cap space. Saints TE Jimmy Graham
Having been down a similar path with QB Drew Brees two summers ago, the Saints would like to avoid another holdout that lingers throughout the summer and into the team's preseason preparations. Interestingly enough, the team could still approach Brees about a possible restructure which could free up some additional funds. However, this would be nothing more than a backburner plan to help secure the team's draft class under contract, while also creating a window to bring back a player like Bush.
Loomis has recently re-stated his belief that a deal with Graham will get done in due time. How much time, is of course, the big issue at hand. The main elephant in the room is the potential grievance that Graham and his camp will file as the Saints want to tender him as a Tight End. Having played almost 70% of his 2013 snaps out wide or in the slot, Graham views himself as a Wide Receiver. The nearly $5 million difference between Tight End and Receiver in terms of the franchise tag fuels this fire for Graham and his representatives.
Like most clubs in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints are not just fighting a one year battle in regards to their cap situation. Next offseason, Cameron Jordan is set to become a free agent and the Saints will soon have to turn their attention to getting a deal done with one of the centerpieces of their resurgent defense. First things first. Get a deal done with Graham, retain key free agents, go through the draft, and Jordan's situation should not be nearly as complex as this one. As free agency begins next Tuesday, every day, every deal and every dollar become all the more precious.
Shrewd decisions may lie ahead, but Loomis and Payton have made them before, and the consistency in the Saints' managerial structure has experience in these situations. With a Super Bowl winning front office and coaching staff, New Orleans should have every reason to feel confident of sorting things out with their most dynamic weapon. Do that, and the future should go hand in hand with the optimistic hopes of Who Dat Nation