Far apart in negotiations over a proposed long-term contract offer, the New Orleans Saints elected to use the Franchise Tag on Tight End Jimmy Graham Friday afternoon. The move does not come as a complete surprise as the Saints were never going to let Graham hit the open market. However, the team now faces a potential negotiating battle similar to the 2012 contract saga of Drew Brees. At this point, it remains to be seen whether Graham will be tagged exclusively or non-exclusively.
If this turns out to be the Exclusive tag, Graham can not negotiate with another team and the Saints will now pay him a one year deal worth 120 percent of his 2013 salary or no less than the average salary of the top five tight ends in the NFL, that is, if Graham does not get his wish to be tagged as a Wide Receiver. If Graham is non-exclusively tagged, he can negotiate with other teams, but the Saints would reserve the right to match any offer he receives. Would they choose not to match, Graham's prospective new team would then be forced to surrender two first round draft picks to New Orleans.
Franchised: Saints TE Jimmy Graham
Graham and his agent Jimmy Sexton have threatened to file a grievance through the players' association if he is indeed tagged as a Tight End. If he were to be tagged as a receiver, he would receive over $4 million more in compensation than if he were tagged as a Tight End. Having lined up almost 70 percent of his snaps in 2013 at a receiver position, Graham believes he should be paid like a wideout.
The Saints want to make Graham the highest paid Tight End in the NFL, but have not been able to agree financial terms with his camp. New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski, the league's current highest earner at the position, averages about $9 million per year. It is believed Graham and Sexton want as much as $12 million per year.
Coming off another stellar campaign in which he hauled in 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, Graham will almost certainly be suiting up in black and gold next season one way or another. Both sides still hope to come to terms on the long term deal that Graham wants and deserves, but the Saints must be able to make it work, having just recently crept under the salary cap. New Orleans also has Drew Brees' salary to pay, and is still looking to retain several other key players.
Graham is the poster boy for the modern day Tight End, often splitting out wide or in the slot as opposed to playing a more classic, in-line blocking role. Sean Payton's prolific offense, with Drew Brees at the controls, is able to take advantage of Graham's unique skills to the fullest. The Saints have until July 15 to come to terms with Graham over a long-term contract.
With training camp just beyond that date, Who Dat nation will remain hopeful that an agreement can be struck and an ugly arbitration battle can be avoided. With lofty goals ahead of them in 2014, the Saints do not want to get off on the wrong foot with a contract issue and potential holdout, as was the case with Brees in a somewhat similar situation in 2012.