The New Orleans Saints have brought back their biggest playmaker today by slapping tight end Jimmy Graham with the franchise tag. Graham is coming off a truly monstrous season, during which he posted 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, all tops on the Saints and tops in the entire league for tight ends as well. His 16 receiving touchdowns also led the entire NFL.
The fun now begins in terms of how much Graham will get paid. Graham was obviously hoping to hit the free agent market and land what would likely have been the largest free agent contract ever given to a tight end, but instead he will have to wait until next year to test those waters. However, the franchise tag was far from unexpected, but will now set into motion a negotiation from Graham’s agent as to whether or not he should be tagged at his position or a wide receiver.
When a player is tagged, the team pays that player either the mean of each of the five highest contracts in the league at their respective position or 120 percent of the player’s current salary, whichever amount is larger. In Graham’s case, being tagged at his tight end position would earn him a little under $7 million, whereas the number for a receiver would be about $11.5 million, according to ESPN.
“Isn’t that what we drafted him as? Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as, a tight end,” said Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis.
Graham made a paltry $1.3 million this year at the conclusion of his contract, and was rumored to be asking for at least $10-12 million a year according to The New Orleans Times-Picayune. That sort of money would be easily the most for a tight end in NFL history. The two sides had talks about a long-term extensions that are now moot due to the franchise tag. The next step is to get Graham and the Saints to a negotiating table with an objective arbitrator.
Things will get dicey, as Graham is such an anomaly at tight end. His numbers are stratospheric in terms of wide receivers, but at the tight end position they are legendary. Graham does line up out as a slot receiver and even out as a wide receiver from time to time, but the odds are stacked against him going into a case with an arbitrator and successfully coming out with the label of wide receiver.
The Saints have used their franchise tag on Jimmy Graham, and it is hard to believe Graham is happy about it at all. It means he will have to put his desires for an enormous free agent deal on hold until next offseason, and also will get paid at the tight end position for another year even though he posts numbers worthy of a wide receiver. On the bright side, he will be paid as one of the best tight ends in the league and will receive a hefty pay bump, but Graham is not one of the best tight ends in the league. He is hands down the best, and deserves to be paid his due.
By Justin Hussong
New Orleans Times-Picayune