Graham and Saints agree to new deal

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Jimmy Graham has caught more touchdown passes (36) than anyone in the NFL over the past three years. Photo courtesy of TheJimmyGraham.com.

With one simple Tuesday morning tweet, the smoke was cleared, and Saints nation was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

New Orleans' All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham started his day by tweeting, "It's official I'm bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support."

The jubilant message was the result of Graham and the Saints finally coming to an agreement on a new contract extension after a whole offseason of failed negotiations. The new deal will finally put hordes of fans at ease that were fearful that Graham might not be in New Orleans for much longer.

When the two sides could not initially come to terms, Graham was slapped with the dreaded franchise tag--guaranteeing his stay in New Orleans for this upcoming season but making anything after that uncertain.

That led to Graham filing a grievance that requested he be classified as a wide receiver rather than a tight end. This was done specifically for franchise-tag purposes.

The franchise tender for a tight end is $7.053 million while the tender is $12.132 for a wideout.

Graham tried hard to get his classification changed--arguing that he lined up in the slot or at wide receiver 67 percent of the Saints' snaps last season.

However, arbitrator Stephen Burbank wouldn't budge. He declared Graham a tight end--arguing that tight ends playing in the slot and on the outside was just the way the NFL has evolved over the years.

With that obstacle out of the way, both sides had to dig in and try to get something done with Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline for signing franchise-tagged players rapidly approaching.

To the joy of Saints fans, New Orleans and Graham finally came to an agreement early that day. The result was a reported four-year, $40 million deal that will include $21 million guaranteed.

The deal will make Graham the highest-paid tight end in NFL history--significantly surpassing Dallas Clark's $27.55 million contract with the Colts back in 2008.

The $21 million of guaranteed money is the second-highest amount for a tight end in NFL history only behind the 49ers' Vernon Davis. Though, Davis' contract was set for five years opposed to Graham's four-year commitment.

It certainly appears to be a great investment for the Saints. Graham has proved to be arguably the best tight end in the game the last few years.

With his combination of size and speed, the former college hoops star has become nearly an impossible matchup for any defense. He's usually too fast for linebackers and too big and strong for corners and safeties to handle.

In his four years in the league, Graham has made the Pro Bowl twice and just last season, he was named first-team All-Pro.

No player in the NFL--wide receiver or tight end--has caught more touchdown passes than Graham in the past three years. In that time, he has compiled 36 touchdown grabs.

He has averaged 90 catches, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per season. Just last year, he made 86 grabs for 1,215 yards and 16 scores--which led the NFL.

Now with the huge contract under his belt, he'll try to outdo his monster 2011 season when he had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 1,310 yards was the second-highest total for a tight end in NFL history.