Beyond The Mic: Will The Saints Use The Franchise Tag On Jimmy Graham? Probably
Today marks the start of a "franchise tag" period for NFL teams. Franchises have until March 3rd to exercise their option of franchise tagging one of their free agents. Will Saints tight end Jimmy Graham receive the designation soon?
The likely scenario is Graham is franchise tagged on or close to the March 3rd deadline. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis would prefer to work out a long-term deal with Graham before free agency begins, but negotiations with high-profile free agents are never that easy. March 8th marks the first day teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents. March 11th is the first day a player can sign with another team.
If Loomis and the Saints cannot work out a deal with Graham, he would most definitely receive the exclusive franchise tag designation by the March 3rd deadline. This means he cannot negotiate with any other teams while holding the franchise tag title.
Graham has made it clear that he doesn't want to be franchise tagged. His agent Jimmy Sexton, will seek a contract that makes Graham the highest paid tight end in NFL history. This will make for a lengthy negotiation, as both sides know Graham's stock is at an all-time high.
While it's probable Graham will receive the franchise tag, it doesn't mean he'll be playing on it in 2014. Drew Brees received the exclusive franchise tag in 2012, but agreed to a new long-term contract before he reported to camp.
If Graham was to play on a one-year franchise tag deal, he'd make average salary of the 5 highest paid tight ends in football, which would likely come out to around $6.8 million.
Sexton would argue that Graham lined up more times in the Saints offense as a wide receiver than as a tight end. The difference in a one-year franchise tag deal for a wide receiver instead of a tight end is nearly $5 million, as the average salary of the top 5 wide receivers in 2014 will be roughly $11.7 million.
The Saints have maintained he's a tight end, but if Sexton wanted to push the issue, he could file a grievance through the NFLPA, and a neutral arbitrator would decide what position best fits Graham.
All of this is a reminder to Loomis and the Saints that it'd be best for a long-term contract to be negotiated and signed before March 3rd. The chances of that happening are slim, and Sexton and Loomis already know this.
Is Graham in danger of signing elsewhere? No. But that doesn't mean the contract negotiations, coupled with the use of a franchise tag, won't get ugly this offseason.
Dig in Saints fans. It's going to be an interesting offseason.