Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Franchise tag: TE Graham really a WR?
By Tom Carpenter
Considering that New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham leads the NFL with 593 receiving yards, is second with 37 receptions and 6 receiving TDs, and is being paid just $1.3 million, he may be the best deal in the entire league. That won't last for long, though, because he will be an unrestricted free agent during the offseason.
That will put the Saints in a bit of a bind, because they already are amongst the top couple of teams when it comes to salary-cap commitments for 2014. There was a recent report that the Saints have an offer to Graham on the table, though, not surprisingly, he is focusing on the season at hand. And with every big game he posts, Graham is increasing the leverage he will have in offseason negotiations.
The Saints have some leverage in their ability to use the franchise tag, but Graham may counter that by claiming that, despite officially being dubbed a tight end, he's really being used as a wide receiver. When it comes down to where he is actually deployed on offense, he'll have a legitimate case. After five games this season, Graham has run routes as a tight end 41 times. Meanwhile, he has run routes in the slot 67 times and out wide 52 times. Graham has been targeted more as a receiver, too: 14 TE targets, 22 slot targets and 16 targets out wide. He has also lined up 166 times in the slot and wide, compared to just 105 as an in-line TE.
This is a big distinction, because the 2013 franchise tag salary for wide receivers ($10.5 million) was significantly greater than it was for tight ends ($6.1 million).
In the end, we know that the Saints will do everything possible to keep Drew Brees' favorite and best weapon on the team, but there is no doubt that it's going to cost them a pretty penny to do so. In 2012, GM Mickey Loomis played hardball with Brees for months before finally giving him a five-year, $100 million deal, which spread out his signing bonus over the length of the contract to help assuage the short-term salary-cap hit. Loomis likely will need to use a similar technique to get keep Graham in the fold and stay under the cap in 2014.