One way or another, by 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday, there will be some resolution to the Jimmy Graham contract situation. Still, exactly what that is and how long it lasts is anyone’s guess as mum's the word on both sides.
Some optimism did begin to seep out Monday afternoon after a tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Saints and Jimmy Graham closing in on long-term deal to make him highest-paid TE in NFL history. Now optimism deal done by Tues deadline.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 14, 2014
Graham is after his first big payday, one that would keep him in New Orleans, provide long-term security and make him the game’s highest-paid tight end. At issue, though, by just how much.
The Saints have reportedly offered Graham $9.5 million annually, which would make him the NFL’s highest paid tight end, an honor that currently belongs to New England’s Rob Gronkowski ($9.0 million annually).
Graham seeks to be paid on par with the game’s top wide receivers, and any deal is likely to include at least $27.69 million of guaranteed money, the equivilant of what he'd earn if he were tagged for three consecutive years, the maximum allowed under the current CBA.
Graham's cause was dealt a major blow when arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled in the Saints’ favor, saying the NFL’s Management Council correctly designated him a tight end for franchise tag purposes. Had he been ruled a wide receiver, the franchise tag would have been worth more than the $5 million difference. It would have also given Graham’s agent Jimmy Sexton significant leverage in subsequent negotiations.
NFL.com's Ian Rappaport first reported on Monday afternoon that Graham had filed an appeal of the grievance ruling. The appeal, which is seen as a last-ditch effort to regain some leverage in the ongoing negotiations, won't occur until after Tuesday's deadline. Should the appeal continue past Tuesday, it will be heard by a three-person panel comprised of retired U.S. District Court judges Fern Smith and Richard Holwell, and Georgetown University law professor James Oldham.
Meanwhile, if the two sides fail to reach a long-term agreement, Graham can either sign the one-year, $7.05 million franchise tag offer or sit out the season and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
Graham’s rookie contract paid him just $3.3 million over four years, so the likelihood of him passing on a one-year deal worth more than twice that seems slim.
Protracted negotiations that are ultimately resolved just before deadlines are nothing new to the Saints. In 2012, the Saints finalized a five-year, $100 million deal with quarterback Drew Brees just hours before the deadline.
Several Saints players, including Brees, have expressed optimism a deal is reached by Tuesday afternoon.
Stay with WWL-TV for more on this story as the deadline approaches.