New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham filed an appeal to contest the ruling that determined his franchise tag designation last week, but also appears to be on the brink of agreeing to a long-term contract with the club, according to multiple media sources.
Graham had until 3 p.m. today to file his appeal in the wake of last Wednesday's ruling, which saw independent arbitrator Stephen Burbank side with the Saints in their stance that Graham should be tagged as a tight end, not a wide receiver. Both Graham and the Saints have until tomorrow afternoon to strike an agreement over a new contract, otherwise the two-time Pro Bowler will either have to play out the 2014 season under the tight end tag, sit out the season, or hope that his appeal is successful.
The Saints have an offer on the table which would make Graham the league's highest-paid tight end, and the highest paid at the position in NFL history. Graham's decision to file his appeal in the eleventh hour may indicate one last hope of getting the Saints to up the ante, though multiple media outlets are reporting that both sides are very close to an agreement. ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that there is "optimism" that a deal will be reached by tomorrow. Jimmy Graham and the Saints have until July 15 to negotiate terms of a long-term contract.
Graham, one of the league's most dynamic weapons, had a grievance filed on his behalf by the NFLPA following the Saints' decision to place the franchise tag on him during the spring. He was hoping to be tagged as a receiver due to the extra $5 million he would have been scheduled to earn in contrast to the tight end tag.
Graham lined up nearly 67% of his 2013 snaps in a non-traditional tight end position, either out wide or in the slot, and was hoping to use this statistic to buoy his argument. However, Burbank sided with New Orleans, who viewed their former 2010 3rd round draft pick as a tight end simply because it was the role they envisioned him playing when they selected him four years ago. Graham meets with the tight ends at the team facility, and even listed himself as a tight end on his Twitter page.
Targeted 144 times by Drew Brees last season, Graham caught 86 passes with 1,215 yards and a league-leading 16 touchdown receptions. Both he and New Orleans have been hoping to settle the matter with a long-term contract, and if one is agreed upon by tomorrow, the appeal will become a moot point. He is expected to command somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million per season, which would surpass New England's Rob Gronkowski's annual salary, making Graham the game's best paid tight end. It is believed that the Saints' current offer would pay Graham around $9.5 million annually, though he has yet to put pen to paper and may be holding out for closer to $10 million.
We will bring you any and all further updates as this story progresses into tomorrow.