Jimmy Graham gets tagged by the New Orleans Saints
What was supposed to be one of the most intriguing stories of the offseason, took a 180 degrees turn. The most wanted free agent of the market, Jimmy Graham, seems that will stay for at least one more season with the New Orleans Saints, the team with he has spent his entire four seasons as a NFL professional football player with.
On Friday, the Saints used the franchise tag on their tight end and, if that was not enough, they did it with the non-exclusive designation. This could be seen like a slap in Graham’s face and he certainly is not happy with this situation. He was expecting a big deal and what he was given might be seen as sign of disrespect.
This non-exclusive franchise tag designation is different than the normal franchise-tag. In the regular one, when a team tags a player with it, it is offering him a contract for the average salary of the top 5 players at that position, and no other team can make an offer to the player that has been tagged. With the non-exclusive designation a team also offers the player that kind of deal but you it is allowing other teams to make an offer to the player. That offer could be of any kind but the team that tagged the player can match the offer and sign that player.
So, what will happen if some team makes an offer to Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints decline to match it? Well, they would receive two first round picks from the offering team in exchange of Jimmy Graham. At the level the tight end has performed for his entire career, the Saints could lose a lot if this finally happens but, in the NFL, business is always more important that the actual sports part; and as good as two first round picks are, rookies are an unsafe bet unlike a proven veteran like Graham.
It is true that Graham is pursuing to be paid like a top wide receiver, what would make him the tight end with the biggest contract in NFL history, surpassing another great player at that position, Rob Gronkowski. But it is also true that he has been playing like a top wide receiver in the New Orleans’ offense so his wishes are not so wild.
Jimmy Graham is currently 27 years old and that means that he is entering the prime of his career. His college history is a curious one. He played four years of college basketball for the Miami Hurricanes from 2005 to 2009 and graduated with a double degree. After that, he stayed one more year to take graduated classes. That was the first time he played college football for the University of Miami. That year he started his career as a tight end and finished the season with 17 receptions for 213 yards and five touchdowns, showing very little, almost nothing, of what a threat he would one day become for opposing defenses.
As we can see, his college football career was not an impressive one. So, how could he finally make the NFL? He had a solid NFL Draft Combine and scouts said that he was “extremely athletic, with an outstanding combination of size and speed for the tight end position” yet he was also considered raw because he had only played one year of football in his life. That led the New Orleans Saints to draft him in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and well they made a good choice.
Through four seasons in the NFL, Jimmy Graham has recorded amazing numbers. Although his rookie season was not a great one with 31 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns he had a breakout year next season. In 2011 he had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, impressive numbers for a second year player. And he has not slowed down since that season, not even a little bit. Through his entire career he has 301 receptions for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns.
He has been receiving the ball from one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Drew Brees, and that is certainly a reason of Jimmy Graham’s numbers. But it is not like Graham had not helped Brees too. With Graham on his side for the last four seasons, the quarterback has put on amazing numbers season after season and he has established some amazing records. For example, in that span of time, Brees has thrown for over 5,000 yards in each one of the last three seasons and he also had the record of the most passing yards in one season (Peyton Manning broke that record last year).
So, why would the New Orleans Saints jeopardize their relationship with Jimmy Graham? It is true that in the NFL world everything is a business and no one should be surprised about this story. But it is also true that Graham is irreplaceable at present because of what he brings to the game. This is a perfect example of two different sides defending what they believe is fair for them.
In one hand, Jimmy Graham believes that he deserves to be paid as a top tight end, almost like a top wide receiver. On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints, as every other franchise in the NFL, are trying to get the best player as cheap as they can get him. Maybe the Saints do not feel that Graham deserves to be paid as a top wide receiver, even though his numbers show otherwise.
Hopefully for the entire New Orleans Saints nation, this franchise tag designation would not weaken the relationship between the team and the player and it won’t be an impediment for them to reach a long-term deal. Because even though Graham believes that he can achieve even bigger things in New Orleans, if he feels disrespected and wants to leave, there will be plenty of great teams willing to hire him and treat him fairly.