The New Orleans Saints have been a busy franchise during the month of March. Whether they are reeling in one of the biggest fish in the free agent pond or sending one of their more dangerous weapons to a conference rival, the Saints have not found themselves far away from the headlines and rumor mills this month. However, perhaps their biggest move yet still looms large in the forefront. Yet to strike agreement with franchised Tight End Jimmy Graham on a long-term contract, the team may be nearing a resolution to the matter within the coming weeks.
Graham and his representation have until around April 22nd to officially file a grievance with the NFLPA that would contest his designation as a Tight End under the franchise tag. While Graham has not publicly stated that he will seek to go that route, it is a foregone conclusion within the league that he would do such, as he stands to earn up to $5 million more would he be tagged as a Wide Receiver, his preference. Lining up nearly 70% of his snaps split out wide or in the slot, Graham views himself as a receiver and certainly expects to be paid like one under his non-exclusive tag. Jimmy Graham could be close to sorting out his future.
In the big picture, Graham has until mid-July to agree to terms on a new long-term contract. Should his situation drag out that long, Graham would either need to agree to terms, play under a one-year deal, or sit out the season. Eager to avoid such chaos, the Saints are said to be willing to get the ball rolling and begin the process of hammering out a deal with Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton.
Graham is said to be seeking in the neighborhood of $10 million per season. While the Saints are still operating under tight cap constraints, they have made moves to help maximize every bit of space they can possibly create, such as extensions for Pierre Thomas and Keenan Lewis that helped reduce their respective 2014 cap hits and converted some of their base salaries into future bonuses. The acquisition of Byrd, the highest-profile free agent Safety on the market, also suggests that the team is in "win now" mode, hopeful of maximizing their opportunities for success while the window for Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jahri Evans and company remains open. The Saints appear willing to face more cap issues down the road, and while that may be the case, their most pressing immediate need is to get a deal done with their franchise player.
Saints owner Tom Benson has recently expressed his optimism that a deal will get done within the next month. Head Coach Sean payton is also hopeful of such an arrangement, and feels confident that Graham's future will be sorted out before training camp. The team does not want this to drag on through the summer, such as what happened two offseasons ago with Drew Brees and his contract situation. With that in mind, and the momentum the team has already built up in March heading into next season, it stands to reason that their should be a high sense of optimism.
Benson cited Graham as "a good person," which may be the owner's own way of expressing his hope that Graham does not take the Saints to town in his demands during negotiating. Nevertheless, the dynamic former Basketball player certainly deserves every penny he will get, and Saints fans will hope for a deal that is both fair to their star-studded hybrid pass-catcher and the team, itself.
One thing is certain: Jimmy Graham is going to get paid. How much, for how long and under what terms remain to be seen, but General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton have been in this position before, and know the importance of avoiding another lengthy negotiating process, as was the case with Brees two summers ago. All is not quiet on the western front, and if the front office appears confident of sorting this out, Saints fans and fantasy owners, alike, can rest somewhat assured that a deal will be reached sooner, rather than later.