One day after launching an appeal to contest the terms of his franchise tag, Jimmy Graham put pen to paper on a long-term contract with the New Orleans Saints, bringing an end to a long-standing saga which dates back to February. The two sides agreeing to terms effectively nullifies the appeal.
Graham's deal is reported to be worth $40 million over four years, with $21 million guaranteed. Those terms make Graham the league's highest-paid tight end, and sets a new record for the largest contract at the position. Graham was believed to be lobbying for an annual salary in the region of $10 million, surpassing New England's Rob Gronkowski as the NFL's most well-compensated tight end. Early Tuesday morning, Graham broke the news to Saints fans and the rest of the world, tweeting "It's official I'm bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support."
The Saints placed the franchise tag on Graham, their 2010 3rd round pick, earlier in the offseason, all the while hoping to eventually hammer out a long term deal. The two sides had until this afternoon to reach an agreement, otherwise Graham's only other options would have been to play in 2014 under the tight end franchise tag, sit out the season, or hope that his appeal, which would have been heard by a three-person committee, would overturn arbitrator Stephen Burbank's ruling that Graham was, indeed, a tight end. The Jimmy Graham franchise tag saga has finally ended.
The former Miami Hurricane was discontent with the team's move to tag him, and felt that if tagged, he should have been done so as a receiver, having played 67% of his 2013 snaps out wide or in the slot, as opposed to a more traditional in-line tight end position. Under the tight end's tag, Graham would have been paid just over $7 million in 2014, in contrast to the $12 million he would have earned if tagged as a receiver. As it stands, Graham's new contract sees him rank 7th among the league's wide receivers in terms of annual salary.
During this long and winding process, the 6-7 265 Graham has been away from the team for the crux of its offseason program, missing the Saints' orgainzed team activities and June minicamp as he awaited for the process to play out. With things now sorted, Graham will be in attendance as the Saints open training camp at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia on July 24.
Things always figured to play out in this manner, as Graham's eleventh-hour decision to file for an appeal was likely a last-ditch effort on his part to maximize his terms on the new contract. The Saints had tabled an offer to Graham's camp several months ago, and the terms of that deal were likely just short of what the new contract will pay him moving forward.
In the end, common sense and good business won out. Both Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints were always keen on settling on a long-term deal to give Graham the compensation he has earned with his dynamic playmaking over the last four seasons, in addition to providing the Saints with some cap flexibility as they will not have to play this same song and dance with their most effective playmaker next offseason. The deal also benefits Graham as it will allow the 27 year-old to seek another long-term deal in his early 30s.
Coming off a season in which he reeled in 86 catches for 1,215 yards and a league-best 16 touchdown receptions, Jimmy Graham will now be allowed to focus all of his energies strictly on football as he and his teammates close in on the start of training camp, which begins next Thursday. The Saints are hoping to make another postseason push, and having locked up their dynamic weapon for the forseeable future, everyone in black and gold can breathe easy and prepare themselves for what they hope will be an epic 2014 season.