Jimmy Graham Contract: Latest News and Rumors on Negotiations with Saints

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014

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Updates from Tuesday, July 15

Jimmy Graham confirmed his contract agreement with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday via his official Twitter account: 

Updates from Monday, July 14

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Jimmy Graham's contract talks with the Saints:

Earlier, Larry Holder of NOLA.com provided a timetable for Graham and the Saints' contract negotiations:

Updates from Friday, July 11

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has the latest on Graham's potential contract talks:

The Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham must reach a long-term deal by Tuesday, July 15. If they don’t, the Saints and Graham can thereafter sign only a one-year deal.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the discussions have to date gone slowly. Which means there’s a chance the discussions will go down to the wire.

This means that Graham’s window for appealing the decision that he’s a tight end and not a receiver for franchise tag purposes will close before a deal is, or isn’t, done. The CBA states that Graham “must serve on the other party and file with the System Arbitrator a notice of appeal within ten (10) days of the date of the award appealed from.”


Updates from Monday, July 7

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently weighed in on Jimmy Graham's contract negotiations, per Ed Werder of ESPN:

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. But it is part of the process and I went through something similar to this 2 years ago, so I get it. ...

... And I think you just hope that it's as amicable as possible and nothing is taken personal and it's just the business side of this thing sometimes, and hopefully it gets resolved sooner than later because I'd like to have some time with him before the season. But I'm very confident it will get resolved, he'll get a long term deal, the one that he deserves and we'll be able to move forward.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the New Orleans Saints and Jimmy Graham are prepared to resume contract talks:

Mike Florio of NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk reports that the New Orleans Saints are disappointed in how the arbitrator reached his final ruling on Jimmy Graham's status: 

Yes, the Saints like the decision from arbitrator Stephen Burbank that tight end Jimmy Graham is a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. But the Saints aren’t thrilled with the way Burbank reached his conclusion.

Per a source with knowledge of the team’s position, the Saints disagree with the notion that the question of tight end vs. receiver boils down to whether the player lines up most of the time within four yards of an offensive tackle. As the Saints see it, a tight end is a tight end no matter where he lines up or how often he lines up there.

The Saints see three key factors for determining tight end status: (1) the player’s size; (2) the player’s position group for practice and meeting purposes; and (3) the manner in which the opponent defends him in man coverage.


Updates from Friday, July 4

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Saints won't reduce their offer to Graham after the arbitrator's opinion:

Contrary to reports, suggestions, and/or speculation that Wednesday’s ruling from arbitrator Stephen Burbank re-set the negotiations on a long-term deal between the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham to square one, a source with knowledge of the discussions tells PFT that the Saints have not reduced or yanked their offer.

The Saints haven’t, and won’t, use the ruling that Graham is a tight end for franchise tag purposes to alter a proposal that would make Graham the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, with a package worth $9.5 million per year.

The Saints likewise have no animosity or frustration to Graham for attempting to advance an interpretation of the labor deal that would have entitled him to a franchise tender of $12.3 million. The team understands that those efforts are part of the business of the sport, and the team believes that Graham’s camp realizes the same thing regarding the team’s efforts to keep the franchise tender at $7 million.


Updates from Wednesday, July 2

Mike Triplett of ESPN has the verdict on the grievance:


Updates from Tuesday, July 1

Albert Breer of NFL.com reported the latest on Jimmy Graham's grievance:


Updates from Monday, June 30

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on when we can expect a decision on Jimmy Graham's grievance versus the Saints:


Updates from Sunday, June 29

Mike Florio of NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk reports that a ruling in the ongoing grievance case between Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints is expected soon: 

It’s been more than a week since an arbitrator considered arguments and evidence in the franchise-tag grievance between Jimmy Graham and the Saints. To date, no ruling has been issued.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, a ruling is expected next week. (Which probably means it’ll come this afternoon.)

That won’t be the end of it. The losing party party inevitably will appeal the outcome to a three-person panel under the labor deal. And a decision may or may not be issued before the July 15 deadline for working out a long-term deal.


Updates from Friday, June 27

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has the latest on Graham:

It’s been more than a week since an arbitrator considered arguments and evidence in the franchise-tag grievance between Jimmy Graham and the Saints. To date, no ruling has been issued.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, a ruling is expected next week. (Which probably means it’ll come this afternoon.)

That won’t be the end of it. The losing party party inevitably will appeal the outcome to a three-person panel under the labor deal. And a decision may or may not be issued before the July 15 deadline for working out a long-term deal.

Later, Florio provided more on Graham's hearing:

Per multiple sources, the case against Graham’s position that he should be treated as a receiver for franchise tag purposes included testimony from coach Sean Payton.

The specifics aren’t known, but the gist of the testimony was that Graham is a tight end, not a receiver.  The consequence, if Payton’s testimony is accepted, will be $5.3 million less in 2014 earnings for Graham.


Updates from Thursday, June 26

Ted Lewis of The Advocate provides a statement from NFLPA communications director Carl Francis discussing Jimmy Graham's grievance:

With the signing deadline (July 15) coming up, everybody would like to get this part of it settled.

Lewis continued with a synopsis of Saints spokesman Greg Bensel's e-mail sent yesterday discussing the grievance:

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said via e-mail Wednesday that the team did not know when Burbank, a Penn Law School professor, would be making his ruling. Jimmy Sexton, Graham’s agent, did not respond to requests for comment. Graham’s Twitter account has been silent since Tuesday and has no comment on the case since the hearing.

The NFL Management Council, which handled the hearing for the league and the Saints, has not commented since the hearing ended as well.


Updates from Tuesday, June 17

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com details some of the points that will be argued by the NFL and NFLPA during Graham's grievance hearing:

ESPN's Mike Triplett later reported financial insight surrounding the hearings:

The proceedings will be held privately. And it's unclear how long it will take Burbank to issue a ruling, though one week is a fair guess based on past arbitration hearings.

At stake is whether the New Orleans Saints will be required to offer Graham a one-year franchise-tag salary of $7.035 million or $12.3 million.

Even more critical is how the ruling will affect their negotiations over a long-term contract. The two sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement, or else Graham can only play under a one-year deal this season.

As for what might happen after a ruling, Rapoport provided an outline of a potential appeal:

Katherine Terrell of the Times-Picayune reveals Graham's agent is in the area to negotiate a deal:

Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, flew to New Orleans from Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday to negotiate with the Saints' front office face to face. Contract talks have been at an impasse for several months, as Graham filed a grievance disputing his franchise tag designation.


Updates from Monday, June 16

ESPN's Mike Triplett reports who will hear Jimmy Graham's grievance: 


Updates from Tuesday, June 10

Mike Triplett of ESPN provides the latest on Jimmy Graham's contract situation:

With Jimmy Graham's grievance hearing scheduled to begin one week from Tuesday, a league source indicated that the NFL Management Council will make a strong counter-argument against the NFL Player Association's claim that he should be considered a wide receiver instead of a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. ...

... "The union's position is a naked cash grab," the source said. "It ignores Mr. Graham's use as a 'traditional' tight end on roughly 60 percent of the snaps where he lined up within 4 yards of the tackle. It also ignores the historical use of the tight end position.

"Since the days of Mike Ditka, coaches have split the tight end wide to gain information about the defensive set and gain a match-up advantage. According to the union's position, last year's All Pro tight end was not a tight end and Mike Ditka was a wide receiver.


Updates from Monday, June 2

CBS Sports' Will Brinson has the latest on Graham:

Drew Brees told CBS Sports Network's "The Boomer and Carton Show" he's focused on OTAs right now, he also added his two cents to the Graham argument, calling the star pass catcher a "hybrid."

"I would describe him as very important," Brees said. "The fact is he's really kind of a hybrid. He's really revolutionizing the position. There's probably an argument to be made [either way], that's why he's filing the grievance."

"I'm confident everything will get worked out with Jimmy at some point, hopefully sooner than later. It would be nice to have him in and have some time with him. But I also know how this goes," Brees said. "I kind of went through this two years ago. My advice to Jimmy is just hang in there, don't take it personal and stay in good shape and get ready to roll when you do get here. I'm excited about OTAs right now and seeing these young guys come together and how they can incorporate in our offense."


Updates from Wednesday, May 14

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis spoke with Sirius XM NFL Radio about Jimmy Graham's grievance hearing:


Updates from Tuesday, May 13

Mike Triplett of ESPN.com reports he date for Jimmy Graham's grievance hearing:

The grievance hearing over Graham's franchise-tag designation has been scheduled for June 17-18, according to a league source. It's unclear whether a third-party arbitrator has been selected.

Triplett continued with a statement from Saints general manager Mickey Loomis:

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis declined to answer specific questions about the pending debate over the weekend, but he did say the Saints' side of the argument will be handled by the management council.

'Obviously we get consulted and talked with,' Loomis said. 'But that's the management council's duty.'

The players' association will present Graham's case. The sides will agree on the selection of the arbitrator.


Updates from Wednesday, May 7

Tom Pelissero of USA Today has the latest on the Jimmy Graham situation:

Pelissero also provided more details on the grievance and the arguments within it:

The grievance was filed after months of talks about a long-term extension failed to yield a deal, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. ...

... The grievance argues Graham, 27, participated in more snaps last season as a receiver than a tight end. The Saints are expected to counter the tight end position in their offense is heavily "flexed" and thus Graham remains a tight end even though he often detaches from the formation.

Larry Holden of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has more details:


Updates from Wednesday, April 23

Ramon Antonio Vargas of The Advocate provides a statement from Drew Brees discussing Jimmy Graham's contract situation with the Saints:

Mike Triplett of ESPN and Larry Holder of NOLA.com had more on Graham from Sean Payton: 


Updates from Thursday, April 10

ESPN's Mike Triplett provides a statement from Saints general manager Mickey Loomis discussing contract negotiations with Jimmy Graham:

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis shot down the notion Wednesday that the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham will aim to strike a new deal by the middle of this month. 

“Look, I’m always optimistic. But there’s no deadline here,” Loomis said when asked if that April 22 date was being used as a target. 

Triplett continued with an additional statement from Loomis discussing the situation:

When asked for the most rational way for fans to look at the situation, Loomis cracked, “Well, when does training camp begin?” 

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Loomis continued. “That’s a two-way street. You know, you guys [in the media] have been through this lots of times. I think all of us would rather have things done sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t always happen that way. So we’ll keep going, well keep at it in the process. Obviously we want to have Jimmy Graham on our team when training camp begins, and I am sure he wants to be with us. 

“So we’ll just keep plugging away at the process. He’s got a great agent. And all his people, they know what they’re doing, and so do we. Hopefully we’ll come to a conclusion at some point.”


Updates from Wednesday, March 26

The Saints' official Twitter feed has the latest on Graham:

The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has more on Graham:

James Walker of ESPN added even more details on the negotiations:


Original Text

Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints have about one month to work out a long-term contract extension before the tight end is forced to decide whether to file a grievance with the league concerning whether he should be considered a wide receiver or tight end under the franchise tag.  

Despite that seemingly tight timeline, Saints owner Tom Benson is confident a solution will be found, even if it doesn't come before the April 22 grievance deadline. Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune passed along comments from Benson about the situation:

There's not much pressure to get this thing done right quick now that it got on the backburner a little bit. We've got so much stuff going, but it will get worked out pretty quick. I'm going to kick him a little bit (Benson chuckled). I like him. He's a nice guy. And he loves my wife (Gayle). I'm going to put her on him.

Graham, who spends a lot of time split out wide in the Saints' high-powered offense, has the option to contest the franchise tag label of being a tight end. The wide receiver tag is significantly more lucrative, leading to the potential debate should an extension not be reached.

A report from ESPN.com states the different in the two tags is more than $5 million ($12.3 million to $7.04 million) based on the current system. The report also provides comments from Drew Brees, who called Graham a "hybrid" based on his unique role in the offense:

He plays a different position than anybody in the league. So he'll be cutting edge with whatever he gets [paid]. And everybody will try to compare themselves to him five years from now. ...

... He's a little bit of everything. He can do it all. Obviously he takes a lot of snaps in a two-point stance, off the ball, split outside, by himself. We move him all over the place.

The difference of opinion between Graham and the Saints could turn ugly should the ordeal get dragged through an entire grievance process.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported in early March that the crucial offensive weapon wasn't expected to show back up until everything was figured out, for which there is no timetable:

Some sources are expressing optimism that a deal will be reached between the sides before Graham is forced to file his complaint or play under the franchise tag for a tight end next season, though.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports the current outlook is that an extension will be worked out, but outlines what could happen if that doesn't happen:

Per a league source, the current expectation is that the Saints and Graham will finalize a long-term contract before Graham pulls the pin on a grievance grenade.

Once Graham files a grievance, the process will take on a life of its own, with more than $5 million turning on whether Graham lined up more as a receiver or a tight end for franchise tag purposes. At that point, Graham has nothing to lose by letting it ride—especially once the process becomes adversarial in an industry where the bright line of winning and losing looms over everything else.

Graham caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Those numbers were all team highs, illustrating his importance to the Saints' offense. Getting something worked out to make sure he remains happy and in a Saints uniform for a long time should be the top priority.

That said, based on Benson's comments it doesn't sound like the Saints are showcasing any urgency. It will be interesting to see if that changes once the grievance deadline gets closer.

Otherwise, an already tense situation could become even more hectic.