You only hope Jimmy Graham gets paid the asking price. He can’t be a tight end, not when he’s playing like a physical, versatile, productive, pass-catching specimen in which he is often Drew Brees’ primary target, and the Saints applied the franchise tag on Graham last week.
He can be a wide receiver, when he’s used as a wideout frequently in which Graham’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, is expected to file a grievance with the league contending that Graham should be paid as a wide receiver, not a tight end. The Saints designated Graham as a tight end, not as a wide receiver. It was very bold of Graham to challenge his franchise designation, growing frustrated with his team when he’s slated to earn $7,053,000 as a tight end and not $12,132,000.
There’s been an ongoing argument on the question of whether he’s a receiver or tight end, which would make a difference in what Graham is worth, seeking a deal roughly in the range of $12 million per season. Do the bosses care that Graham, looking for a new contract, is unhappy with the organization, wanting to sign long term and feel appreciated in New Orleans, where he made his case as NFL’s top tight end last season?
For that, Graham, who is the Saints’ best offensive weapon, believes he’s a receiver not a tight end. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that he’s the greatest hybrid tight end in the game and that he lined up in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of the snaps last season. That’s quite unusual for tight ends, not known for lining up off the line often as Graham did last season. But in today’s NFL, the modern tight end position is more flexible and it requires moving the player around. So he does have a point, the one player who had a ridiculous season, so much that I dare suggest he should make significantly more money than the league’s top tight ends since he posts numbers worthy of a wide receiver.
He can effectively run routes from the slot across the middle, run for the end zone, score touchdowns and show off his basketball skills by dunking the football over the goal post after scoring six points. He sounds mad while demanding a higher paycheck, as if he’s the NFL’s best receiver to ever play the game. He sounds like a mercenary while begging the Saints to pay him top dollar, as if the NFL has listed him as a receiver. I believe he’s never been a receiver and, rather clearly, he played tight end at the University of Miami and was drafted as a tight end in the third round, 95th overall, of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Since then, he’s played that position only to make the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro this year for the first time in his career. If nothing else, Graham prefers to get paid like a receiver and should be paid for practically being as good as he was last season. But the collective bargaining agreement entails that players be tendered at the position at which “the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year.” That’s why it doesn’t sound as insane, simply because Graham lined up next to the offensive tackle one-third of the time. He’s not listed as a receiver, but Graham and his representatives will argue, by the letter of the law, that he should earn franchise salary for a receiver.
It’s not uncommon to see a player challenge his franchise tender designation. It’s certainly not the first time, because in 2008, Terrell Suggs was tendered by the Baltimore Ravens as a linebacker instead of a defensive. He was looking to get paid the defensive end franchise designation of $8,879,000, and the two sides eventually came to an agreement, including the NFL and NFLPA, on a deal worth $8.5 million. For the moment, anyway, Jared Cook pondered the decision of challenging last year, but the Tennessee Titans decided not to tag him, which made him a free agent. The Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley reached a two-year deal to end a contract dispute in 2012, with the franchise reluctant to take a chance in the grievance progress.
But now, Graham prefers to get paid like a receiver, catching 86 passes for 1,215 yards, the most among all NFL tight ends. He had a great season, if you haven’t heard, and scored 16 touchdowns, second most in the NFL. Once his career is over, Graham will go down as one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game and could be a Hall of Famer. My inclination is that he’s a receiver, but he will likely get $7 million in 2014, which is not a bad contract.
So yes, to me, he’s as good as Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis, two of the top tight ends in the league. He’s a gifted receiver, and should be making that money.
Whatever he is, he deserves to make the big bucks.