Updates from Monday, March 24
The next real deadline applies on or about April 22, when Graham must file a grievance regarding his designation as a tight end for franchise tag purposes.
Per a league source, the current expectation is that the Saints and Graham will finalize a long-term contract before Graham pulls the pin on a grievance grenade.
Updates from Monday, March 3
Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun provides the latest on what the Saints have decided to do with Jimmy Graham's listed position:
Jimmy Graham is listed as tight end on the franchise player designation by the NFL— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 3, 2014
Updates from Saturday, March 1
Chris Mortensen of ESPN has more info on Graham's tag:
Saints slapped @TheJimmyGraham w NON-exclusive tag, creating more drama. Any team can sign Graham for 2 1st picks or Saints can match— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) March 1, 2014
New Orleans Saints superstar tight end Jimmy Graham had been playing through a contract year in 2013, and the franchise wasn't about to let him walk as a free agent in the offseason.
Graham confirmed the news via Twitter:
Confirming it's officially Franchisefriday... TAG ... I guess I'm it...— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) February 28, 2014
ESPN.com's Adam Schefter first reported that the Saints will use the franchise tag to keep Graham in New Orleans for the time being:
No great surprise, but the Saints will use their franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham before Monday’s deadline, per a league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 28, 2014
The franchise tag designation keeps him in New Orleans for at least one more season but isn't the long-term extension both the player and the organization were seeking.
There was some question as to whether Graham would be tagged as a tight end or wide receiver, given his pass-catching prowess.
In observing a $4.5 million difference between the two tags from last season, ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio also described the ruling:
Under Article 9, Section 2 of the [Collective Bargaining Agreement], [T]he tender will apply to the position in which the player participated in the most plays.” Thus, if Graham was lined up wide or in the slot more times than he was lined up as a tight end, he’s a receiver.
General manager Mickey Loomis was optimistic that Graham would get an extension in July and noted that he wanted his prized tight end to stick around New Orleans for the rest of his career.
Unfortunately for the two sides, another year is all they were able to agree to.
Although Graham came up rather small in the postseason, registering only one catch for eight yards in the Saints' 23-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, New Orleans at least owed it to him to increase his income.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett went as far to call Graham soft and overrated after the game when talking to Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman.
"To me, he's one of the softest players in the NFL," Bennett said. "He's overrated. I think he's the most overrated player in the NFL. I don't like him as a player or a person."
But NFL.com's Chris Wesseling came to Graham's defense and pointed out the extraordinary pain he was dealing with—a torn plantar fascia:
Jimmy Graham isn't "soft." He averaged 119 yards before injury, 52 yards after torn plantar fascia. Snaps were cut, explosion lost.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) January 13, 2014
Graham led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches and had 86 receptions for 1,215 yards during the regular season, yielding incredible value for what the club was paying him before.
According to Spotrac.com, Graham made $1.323 million in base salary in 2013 as part of his rookie contract, which totaled four years and a little over $3 million including the signing bonus.
This is quite a better payday to say the least.
The 6'7", 265-pound Graham was a third-round draft pick from the University of Miami back in 2010 and made the conversion to the NFL gridiron with relative ease. He truly broke out in his second year, with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It would have been a record in receiving yards for a tight end if not for Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, who broke Graham's mark after it was set earlier in the day in that year's regular-season finale.
That breakout campaign from Graham was followed by similar production last season, when he caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns.
Locking up Graham ensures that Brees will have a reliable target to stretch the middle of the field in 2014.
The degree of success the Saints' prolific offense can expect to have in the future is tied to the continual excellence of Brees and Graham. Despite this year's nagging injury, Graham should prove to be a worthwhile investment.