Should Jimmy Graham not be retained by the New Orleans Saints, it’s not inconceivable that every single team in the NFL would make a pitch for him.
The top offensive free agent this offseason, Graham seems destined to remain with the Saints. After hauling in 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns this season, the Saints and Drew Brees will do everything in their powers to make Graham a mainstay in the Crescent City.
The big question that remains unanswered will be whether the Saints can afford to ink Graham to a long-term contract or will the team have to slap him with the franchise tag. Right now, all signs point to the latter.
Beginning Feb. 17 the Saints will have a two-week timeframe to use the franchise tag on Graham. However, given Graham’s usage in the Saints offense there is an argument to be made that he should be tagged as a wide receiver instead of a tight end, which would completely alter his salary for the 2014 season.
Brees has openly stated he views Graham as a tight end, and that’s the position general manager Mickey Loomis said he drafted Graham as and the position that’s written on the back his player card, though his agent would likely argue differently.
Graham lined up as a tight end one-third of the time this past season, according to Pro Football Focus. The difference in cost between a tight end and wideout: $4.6 million. But regardless, Graham told reporters after the season he would rather not be given the franchise tag.
That may not be an option for Graham, though, as a $6.8 million projected cap hit for a tight end under the franchise tag is more feasible for the Saints than one for a wide receiver, which would be well over $10 million.
The Saints were about $13.3 million over the cap to begin the offseason, but are making all of the necessary moves to make space for Graham. The team parted ways with veterans Roman Harper, Will Smith, Jabari Greer, and Jonathan Vilma, which is projected to save the team about $17 million for 2014.
Don’t count on Graham leaving New Orleans, at least not this season. The Saints will likely do whatever they can to retain Graham for the 2014 season and well beyond.