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New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is undoubtedly the top free agent on the market and with good reason. Over the last four years, he's established himself as one of the premier offensive weapons in the NFL, lining up in multiple positions in the Saints' sophisticated passing attack.
In fact, he was so dominant in 2013, hauling in 86 receptions and 16 touchdown catches, that it stands to reason that his toughest one-on-one battle might not take place on the field but rather in negotiations this offseason with the Saints.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis knows that he can't let Graham get away, and he told reporters that he is prepared to do everything in his power to keep him, including the franchise tag.
If that situation arises, it will trigger a very interesting situation where Graham's representatives would likely argue that he deserves to be compensated as a receiver rather than a tight end because of his proclivity to line up wide on passing downs.
The monetary divide between the franchise tag for tight ends ($6 million) and receivers ($10.6 million) is steep, and the situation has Graham feeling queasy, as he told Kevin Patra of NFL.com regarding the possibility of being tagged, "I'm not keen on the franchise tag, that would be really unfortunate, but that is really all I have to say about that one."
Graham surely wants a multi-year, megabucks contract to stay on Bourbon Street but if he and the Saints can't work something out, the franchise tag looms large, and quarterback Drew Brees backed the team when he told NBC Sports Radio (via ProFootballTalk):
He’s a tight end. We’re able to do a lot of creative things with him, just like we’re able to do with a lot of our offensive personnel. I feel like with Sean Payton, with our offensive system and we gear towards putting those guys in the best position to succeed according to their strengths. Jimmy Graham is six-seven, 270, he runs like a deer, he can jump and catch, he’s so strong and physical, he plays with great fire and passion, he can play the line, he can split out.
Graham played more snaps at receiver than tight end, per ESPN Stats & Info, but it's unclear if his representation would win that particular battle.
In the end, despite whatever brouhaha the two sides might engage in, one thing is abundantly clear:
Jimmy Graham will remain a Saint, by hook or by crook.