Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints haven’t seen eye to eye on a contract extension all offseason and Drew Brees has had enough of it. In an interview last week, Brees said, “Jimmy’s my guy. I want what’s best for him. I want what’s best for the team. Certainly there’s a way that everybody can be happy coming out of this deal.”
The only way I can see everyone coming out of this deal happy is a long-term extension for Graham. Not only was he verbally unhappy about the Saints franchise tag being placed on him, he was even unhappier about arbitrator Stephen Burbank’s ruling of him being a tight end instead of a wide receiver. That decision would cost Graham $5 million this season if the Saints can’t agree with him on an extension.
The consequence of the Saints and Graham not agreeing to terms this year could be Graham’s departure next offseason. Graham has not been happy about the process of negotiations and has gone to twitter multiple times to talk about it. If he doesn’t get his way with a contract by July 15th, there would be plenty of teams next year that would be willing to spend big money on a marquee tight end like Graham.
He has, however, gone through his fair share of adversities. Last season Graham was shut down in some of the biggest games of the year. Aqib Talib and the Patriots shut him out in a matchup of division leading teams last October. The Seahawks held him to four catches for 40 yards in two combined games last year while his postseason stats for two games were four catches for 52 yards.
Though the stats may show that Graham diminishes in the big moment, he has still been the most consistent tight end in the NFL over the last three seasons. He’s missed just two games over the past four seasons and has been the favorite target of Drew Brees recently. Rob Grownkowski signed a six-year, $54 million contract ($13.1 million guaranteed) two years ago to make him the highest paid tight end in NFL history. Graham deserves to be paid that, if not more for his durability and exceptional play for the Saints. While Gronkowski is the better all around tight end, it’s just as important to appreciate a player with Graham’s ability that is reliable to be on the field every Sunday unlike the recent history for Gronkowski.
Graham will make just over $7 million this year with the tight end franchise tag. The Saints have reportedly offered him a $9.5 million-a-year contract that would make him the highest paid tight end in the NFL. The details of the deal are unknown but Graham has denied the offer. With his current contract for this year, the Saints are around $1.3 million under the cap for the start of the season. The Saints could offer a back-loaded contract in the ballpark of five years, $46 million with the all-important $20 million guaranteed. It would be the largest contract for average per year as well as the most guaranteed money to a tight end in the NFL. The contract would also pay Graham as a top ten wide receiver, right in the range with Andre Johnson’s deal. The back-loaded contract would give the Saints room to operate under the cap this year and still be able to lock up Graham for his prime. The guaranteed money is a risk, but is essential for him to agree to a long-term deal with the Saints.
The Saints need to make Jimmy Graham happy and Drew Brees happy by bringing back his favorite target for years to come. A tight end of Graham’s caliber isn’t sitting around to replace him when he leaves because of the organization’s inability to sign him. He is a crucial part of this offense and a necessity to have if the Saints want to make another run at the Super Bowl. Losing Graham would be catastrophic for Brees and the offense. Marques Colston has lost a step and the Saints don’t have another big receiver with reliable hands for Brees to look to. The numbers show it and the face of the franchise agrees; Jimmy Graham needs to be a part of the long-term plan for the Saints. Go ahead and pay that man.