MOBILE, Ala. — Mickey Loomis stood in the stands at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., and let out a quick, light chuckle.
Of course, Jimmy Graham is a tight end. Why wouldn’t he be considered one?
“Isn’t that what we drafted him as?” Loomis said, his black Guess jacket buffering a stiff wind in this Alabama port city. “Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as, a tight end.”
The good news, at least as far as Saints fans are concerned, is that both sides would like an agreement.
“Look, we're in the early part of the process, and obviously we want to have Jimmy back and he wants to be back and so we just have to go through this process,” Loomis said, “and hopefully come to terms at some point.”
Still, the question that culled the brief chuckle likely won’t draw one in a few weeks. If the two sides don’t come to an agreement on a long-term contract, preferable for Loomis and the Saints, New Orleans will have two weeks from Feb. 17 to March 3 to franchise tag him.
And that’s where the discussion may get heated.
Graham, 27, and his agent Jimmy Sexton will likely argue that he’s used more as a receiver. Loomis will argue that Graham is the perfect example of what a tight end is in today’s NFL.
“Look, the tight end has always been part of the passing game,” Loomis said. “And he’s part of the running game. So he’s part of both. So are receivers, so are running backs."
Graham finished 2013 as the Saints’ leading receiver, both in catches (86) and yards (1,215). His 16 touchdowns fell one short an NFL record for scores in a year by a tight end. He also caught the most passes in 2012, with 85, morethan any other receiver. And in 2011, his 1,310 yards receiving yards are second-most in NFL history for a tight end.
The difference could be enormous if the Saints have to franchise tag Graham, something New Orleans would do if pushed.
In 2013, the difference between a franchise tag at receiver and tight end was more than $4 million.
Graham made $1.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract. He’s eyeing a contract similar to what Rob Gronkowski, the NFL’s top-paid tight end, is making; Gronkowski signed a six-year, $54 million extension in 2012.
Should the two sides get to that point, it would be an NFL first; while there have been possibilities in the past, none have reached the point where a team and a player have argued which position they play.
But Loomis isn’t worried about the relationship getting to that point.
“I don’t know what the process for that is,” Loomis said. “And I’m not really worried about it. I’m more worried about developing and coming to terms on a long-term contract.”