It’s a good thing for the Saints that 49ers All-Pro Vernon Davis isn’t ruling on the grievance tight end Jimmy Graham filed against New Orleans.
That’s because Davis believes Graham should be considered a wide receiver for the purposes of payment and is owed millions more than the Saints want to pay him under a franchise tag if it goes into effect.
“If you’re a guy who’s catching a lot of passes and you possess some of the traits that wide receivers have, then yes, I … think that (you) should get paid like a wide receiver,” Davis told ESPN on Thursday in regards to Graham.
Davis also said: “He’s just a wonderful presence. He’s a great player. He has a lot of potential to go above and beyond and just go further. He is one of those guys that is a part of that TE position that are changing the game — Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, [Rob] Gronkowski.
“Those guys are some fantastic players. If it was me, if I was the owner of the team, I would give the kid everything he wants because he’s that.”
Of course, a big pay day for Graham would indirectly help fatten Davis’ wallet, in all likelihood. Folks should keep that in mind as they process Davis’ words.
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 nonexclusive franchise tag worth about $7 million 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.
Graham in May filed a grievance through the NFL players association to be classified as a wide receiver, given the massive boost in compensation that could potentially bring, depending on the decision of an arbitrator following a hearing set for June 17-18. He has not signed the tag, has not been under contract this offseason and has not been at voluntary workouts with the Saints so far in 2014.
Note that Graham would not even play under the tag if he and Saints can agree on a long-term contract extension before the July 15 deadline. Meanwhile, any ruling issued by the arbitrator in regards to the grievance would give the winning side leverage in arguing how much money Graham deserves in contract negotiations, which could be motivation to hammer out a deal before then since neither camp can be sure of victory.
The Saints all offseason have said that a long-term extension is their goal as it concerns Graham, who many think will ultimately get a contract that pays him around $10 million annually and makes him the highest-paid player ever listed as a tight end.
Elsewhere, Davis is pushing for his own contract extension and has held out of voluntary offseason workouts this year. He has two seasons left on a six-year, $42.7 million contract he signed in 2010 and is the third-highest paid NFL tight end.
If Graham gets a contract annually paying him something that reflects the 2014 franchise tag for a wide receiver, obviously Davis would reasonably be able to demand an amount that may not be identical but could be similar.
Davis’ stats haven’t been as gaudy as Graham’s — in 2013, he had 13 touchdowns and 850 yards. But, like Graham, Davis has been to two Pro Bowls. He has also helped San Francisco reach the last three NFC Championship Games as well as a Super Bowl in 2012.
“Jimmy Graham … believes that he deserves more, and I believe that he deserves more,” Davis told ESPN.