Updates from Wednesday, July 16
'I’m beyond excited,' Graham said Tuesday night. 'I didn’t get into to football to learn litigation. I got into football to win games with my teammates, friends and coaches. I am extremely happy to get back to what it’s really about.'...
...'It’s hard to describe, it’s surreal,' Graham said. 'With my childhood and how hard the road has been leading up to this point. The quote I have always lived by is that ‘you have an opportunity to turn a dream into a reality.’ I approach every day with that mindset. Every day, every game is an opportunity. That is how I approached these last 20-plus years. I see everything as an opportunity.'
Tom Pelissero of USA Today provided the cap hit for the Saints for each year in Graham's deal:
Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints couldn't agree when it came to deciding the Pro Bowler's position. Now officially a tight end, the 27-year-old announced the two sides were able to reach a deal:
The team's official Twitter account shared in the excitement:
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports on the details of the contract:
The NFL Network's Albert Breer dives deeper into the numbers:
NBC Sports Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio breaks down Graham's deal even further:
Per a source with knowledge of the contract, Graham received $12 million to sign, along with a $1 million base salary for 2014. That’s $13 million in the first year (math!) and a cap number of $4 million.
The rest of the guaranteed money falls into 2015 salary, which is guaranteed for injury only, for now. The $8 million Graham is due to make next year becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 waiver period. This means that, as a practical matter, the Saints won’t be cutting Graham before the injury guarantee becomes a full and complete guarantee.
The Saints and Graham agreement is likely to help both sides get through an at-times testy standoff. Graham's guaranteed money puts him in his rightful place alongside Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten as the league's highest-paid tight ends.
The deal comes not long after league arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled earlier in July that Graham was a tight end. The two-time Pro Bowler was challenging the Saints' ability to tag him as a tight end instead of a wide receiver, noting that he played a majority of his snaps in spots traditionally reserved for receivers.
Burbank's ruling set a different definition of the tight end position than is typical. The arbitrator said Graham was still acting as a tight end when starting out of the slot, writing, "at least if such alignment brought him within four yards of (the nearest offensive) lineman," per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett.
"At the end of the day, Jimmy Graham has revolutionized the position," quarterback Drew Brees told Canal Street Chronicles' JR Ella in July. "He's a guy who is so talented at so many things you know and obviously he's a big part of our offense and I hope that they're able to reach a long-term agreement here sooner than later."
The ruling wound up costing Graham more than $5 million in guaranteed money for his tag. A tight end tag comes with a $7 million salary, while receivers are granted $12.3 million. The league's collective bargaining agreement states a franchise player makes the average salary of the top five players at his position.
Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler provides perspective on Graham's new deal:
NFL rules also put Graham and the Saints under the gun. They had to hammer out a long-term contract by Tuesday, July 15, at 4 p.m. ET; otherwise, Graham could only play on the one-year franchise tender. Because he had not signed the deal yet, he would have been able to hold out through training camp without repercussions.
Getting the deal done now allows everyone to move on—something that should come as a massive boon to the Saints offense.
Few dispute Graham's status as the best pass-catching tight end in football. He's made at least 85 receptions in each of the last three seasons, going over the 1,000-yard mark in two of those three campaigns and becoming the league's premier red-zone target. His 36 touchdown receptions over the last three seasons are a league best.
In 2013-14, Graham had 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and an NFL-high 16 touchdown grabs. No tight end produced more yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). When Graham was struggling with a partially torn plantar fascia down the stretch last season, the Saints offense saw a noticeable drop in points.
Although head coach Sean Payton and Brees have prided themselves on a San Antonio Spurs-ian system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Graham is a lynchpin. Take him out, and the entire field starts to feel smaller.
That the Saints and Graham came to an agreement is a positive sign for a team already all in for 2014.
New Orleans threw caution—and future cap space—to the wind by making a big-money splash to land safety Jairus Byrd and veteran corner Champ Bailey. Already up against it from a cap perspective, the Saints have made their title contention aspirations loud and clear.
With Graham's contract situation now settled, it's time to see whether risks will pay off.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.