All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham — who remains unsigned after the Saints put a franchise tag on him — infuriated some of his team’s fans on social media when he tweeted a picture of himself flexing his arms Thursday in a charity sailboat race near Manhattan, N.Y., captioned, “Suns out, Guns Out.”
Simultaneously, the vast majority of his fellow Saints were toiling through a third day of voluntary practice as part of organized team activities that began Tuesday.
But, with the furor over the photo in the background, a communications firm representing the team with whom Graham participated in the pro-am race circulated a statement to New Orleans media explaining it was all for a good cause. Graham and Team Hugo Boss won the event as well as $10,000 they will donate to the charity “Angel Flight,” which transports sick children to cities where better health care is available to them, the statement said.
In a provided quote, Graham remarked that Angel Flight is “near to my heart because I am a pilot,” as is evident from frequent pictures on his Twitter account that show him flying around various locales.
“The two are very similar — sailing and flying,” Graham said. “So a great experience here in New York.”
The statement from JDP Communications said Graham moved the sails and ropes on the boat he and Team Hugo Boss raced.
The communique and the charitable donation may win Graham back the good will of some Saints fans who were momentarily annoyed he was sailing Thursday and was not with the team. But others worn out by the offseason saga that’s been Graham’s contract situation may be unmoved.
Last season, the final one on his rookie contract from 2010, Graham led the Saints in receiving yards (1,215) and touchdown receptions (an NFL-best 16). He spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, but the team handed him a franchise tag that both prevented him from becoming the most-sought unrestricted free agent and labeled him a tight end, the position at which he was drafted and has been to two Pro Bowls.
The NFLPA filed a grievance against the Saints for designating Graham as a tight end rather than a wide receiver, which pays $12.312 million rather than the $7.035 million for a tight end.
The Saints have repeatedly said their goal is to ultimately sign Graham to a long-term deal that replaces his expired contract, renders the tag null and which both sides agree is fair.
It’s obvious why New Orleans is seeking to keep Graham around. His 41 touchdown receptions are fourth all-time for the Saints and the most for a club tight end.
His 301 catches and 3,863 receiving yards rank sixth and seventh all-time for the Saints, and they each are tops among tight ends who have suited up for the franchise.
Graham holds single-season team records for catches (99 in 2011) and receiving touchdowns (an NFL-best 16 last year). He has gone to two Pro Bowls and helped the Saints to the playoffs in 2010, ’11 and ’13. He was the Saints’ lone Associated Press first team All-Pro last year.
Note: JDP Communications shared photos of Graham participating in the race, but they are too large in size to embed in this post. They are available here. Also, this post has been updated since it was first published to include more information.