MOBILE, Ala. — With the Saints prepared to use the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham if needed, a debate looms about whether he should be designated as a tight end or as a wide receiver due millions of dollars more.
But, in Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis‘ eyes, that discussion is a short one. Graham was drafted in 2010 as a tight end; he was selected for his second-career Pro Bowl this year as a tight end; therefore, he’s a tight end, Loomis said Tuesday morning during the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl’s North team practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“Isn’t that what we drafted him as?” Loomis said when asked whether the Saints viewed Graham as a tight end despite the fact that the player spends more than half the time he’s on the gridiron lined up at wide receiver. “Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as — a tight end.”
Loomis added that tight ends figure prominently in the passing game in today’s NFL.
“Look, the tight end has always been part of the passing game,” Loomis said. “He’s part of the running game. So he’s part of both — so are receivers, so are running backs.”
Graham is reaching the end of the contract he accepted when he was a rookie, and he is due to become a free agent on March 11 if the Saints don’t reach a new multi-year agreement with him or slap the franchise tag on him.
Many believe Graham deserves to be the highest-paid tight end in NFL history and that he’s worthy of $10 million a year. He led the NFL in the regular season with 16 TD catches and the Saints with 1,215 yards receiving.
He produced well even though he played through a foot injury for more than half of the season, in which the Saints won a total of 12 games and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs. When defenses schemed to limit him, that opened up opportunities for teammates.
Loomis on Tuesday confirmed what’s virtually been a foregone conclusion: The Saints will hand the franchise tag to Graham if they can’t ink another deal with him. That would keep Graham with the Saints through the 2014 season.
However, it’s expected that Graham’s representatives could argue that the All-Pro player should be a wide receiver and not a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag, given his numbers and how the Saints utilize him. At least one projection estimates the 2014 franchise tag for a tight end will be $6.7 million; for a wide receiver it’s $11.6 million.
Loomis says he’s “not really worried about it.”
“I’m more worried about developing and coming to terms on a long-term contract,” he remarked.
The Saints will be seeking out that contract and deciding what to do with 14 other players about to become unrestricted free agents while trying to get under a 2014 salary cap that they’re reportedly $12 million or more over. While it seems daunting, Loomis said that’s not the case.
“We’ve got smart people in our building,” said Loomis, specifically mentioning Director of Football Administration Khai Harley. “We’ll get a lot of input from the rest of our staff. So we’ll manage it.”