Jimmy Graham has taken the NFL by storm over the past four years. He has caught 301 passes for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns since he was drafted by the Saints from Miami in 2010. Graham’s numbers are otherworldly compared to other Tight Ends and scream number one Wide Receiver material. After putting up elite numbers, however, Graham and the Saints are at a crossroad and there is reasonable speculation that he might leave New Orleans.
Why leave New Orleans, you ask? The simple answer is money, and lots of it.
The Saints have been unable to reach a long term deal and a report surfaced this weekend that they are in fact ‘millions’ of dollars apart. The practical solution is to tag him, right? Wrong!
The major issue with the franchise tag is what to tag Graham as. He is listed as a Tight End but takes over 60 percent of his snaps as a slot receiver. This issue is significant because it means a difference in salary of $5 million.
Graham has indicated that it would be a mistake if the Saints were to tag him and his representatives have announced that if he is tagged as a Tight End a grievance would be filed with the NFLPA due to recoup the money Graham would lose; roughly, a difference of $4 million. With the drama stirring up this offseason I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints would tag and trade Graham or let him walk and test free agency altogether.
If Graham is allowed to test free agency it would only be logical for the Falcons to make a run at him. He has the talent and production that make GM’s and coaches salivate, he can stretch the field and block effectively. Thomas Dimitroff would pounce at the first opportunity to pair Graham with Roddy White and Julio Jones in effort to replace the production of the recently retired Tony Gonzalez.
Jimmy Graham has played his entire rookie contract with an elite quarterback and other weapons for his quarterback to throw to. He flourished in this situation and would find a similar situation in Atlanta. The only question is how much to pay him. Atlanta, unlike New Orleans, has cap space; the Falcons are approximately $30 million under the salary cap and have enough to make a serious run at Graham if he becomes available. With that said the only question that remains is, how much should Graham get paid?
If one looks back to last offseason, a receiver named Mike Wallace signed a 5 year $60 million contract. In Graham’s case he is more valuable to a team than Wallace will ever be an given his ability to run multiple routes as well as stretch the field I would think the fair amount for Graham’s value would be a contract in the ballpark of 6 years/ $70 million.