New Orleans Saints

Jimmy Graham's Next Contract with Saints Will Affect Future Tight End Deals

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 27:  Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 27, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Sean ODonnellContributor IIIJuly 5, 2014

The long controversy is over, and Jimmy Graham is officially an NFL tight end.

Earlier this year, the New Orleans Saints assigned the franchise tag to their biggest offensive weapon, and Graham argued—and lost—that he should be considered a wide receiver for monetary reasons due to his time split out wide.

So, why did Graham lose the arbitration?

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport summed it up nicely in this tweet:

It really does make sense.

Now the tight end salary controversy is finally behind us, right?

Nope.

Graham will be paid a $7.05 million salary as a franchise-tagged tight end rather than the $12.3 million a wide receiver would obtain. However, that has nothing to do with his asking price on a new contract with the Saints.

While there is a cap on a player's franchise tag, there isn't on a multiyear contract.

This means even though Graham may have lost the battle against the NFL regarding being paid as a wide receiver, the war is still likely to wage on between Graham and the Saints for a long-term deal.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports gave his take on Graham's current classification:

After all, according to Rapoport, via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, negotiations between Graham and general manager Mickey Loomis are at "ground zero."

Should Graham agree to a new long-term contract with the Saints, rest assured he'll become the league's highest-paid tight end—and rightfully so.

Although, there's still the matter of what monetary value Graham's new contract will yield. If he does meet in some kind of middle ground—somewhere between wide receiver and tight end—with New Orleans, we could see a huge spike in future contracts at the position.

One such player hoping Graham would be treated as a wide receiver was San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, according to an interview with D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Davis said: "I pray that Jimmy Graham passes as a wide receiver. Because at the end of the day, if he passes as a wide receiver, that's better for the rest of the tight ends. He will have opened up a door, a pathway for the rest of the group."

That's the absolute truth.

When looking at the NFL as a whole, there are plenty of talented pass-catching tight ends across the board. Aside from Graham and Davis, we still have Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Jason Witten and many up-and-comers as well.

If Graham is awarded some type of megadeal, expect some of these tight ends to follow suit.

Cameron already changed his Twitter profile as if expecting the same sort of situation down the road. Here's a look courtesy of John Breech from CBSSports.com:

With salary caps already creating trouble for several NFL teams, an increased pay rate for tight ends would only further team's struggles of keeping their best players around for the long haul.

According to a report from Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Saints are still offering Graham the same $9.5 million-per-year offer as they did prior to the arbitration's results.

Although, former NFL tight end and current CBS Sports analyst Tony Gonzalez thinks Graham will end up receiving a bigger number but hints at potential ongoing trouble due to the amount of money he will be missing out on:

But let's do some quick math. I anticipate he will sign somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million per year over five years, which is great money. But an elite wide receiver will make $14 million-$16 million per season. Let's say we even round down and give that receiver $13 million a year over the same span of five years; Jimmy Graham will miss out on $15 million as a tight end that he would make if classified as a receiver. Let's not forget that Graham is young and could easily play another 10 years, which means the same thing could happen to him for his next contract. He would miss out on that same $15 million again.

Could this be something for the Players Association to look into down the road? That's a strong possibility.

For now, the Saints have until July 15 to negotiate a new deal. All we can do is wait and see what develops—and how things shake out in the aftermath.

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