The debate is out there. Is Jimmy Graham a tight end or a wide receiver?
I understand why it exists, but it really shouldn't matter.
Mickey Loomis is right, Graham is a tight end. He's a new age tight end that catches a lot of passes and doesn't line up as a traditional tight end much, but he's still a tight end. Graham's camp is right to expect that Graham should be paid like the Saints number one receiving threat because, well, that's what he is.
The only time this distinction would really come into play is if they had to place the franchise tag, which is a move that should only be used to buy some time, not as a true contract. The Saints did this with Drew Brees to protect them from other clubs until they eventually reached a long-term deal. But having Graham play under the tag regardless if it's at tight end or wide receiver is not good business for anyone.
A long-term deal should be the ultimate goal. It's the best thing for all sides. And it should be one that makes Graham the highest paid tight end in the NFL AND in the top ten in all pass catchers, regardless of position.
The game's highest-paid tight end is New England's Rob Gronkowski who signed an eight year, $55 million contract, with $17 million guaranteed. The top-earning wide receiver is Calvin Johnson who signed a seven-year $113 million deal with $48 million guaranteed.
The real debate should be how much between these two contracts should the Saints pay their top receiving threat.
While Gronkowski is the more complete tight end, Graham is the more explosive and, more importantly, the more available player.
Johnson is the best receiver in the game, period. Graham is not at that level. That's not a knock on Graham, that's just how good Johnson is.
If the Saints want to give Graham a contract closer to Gronk's, then they're wrong. If Graham's agent wants a contract similar to Johnson's or even Larry Fitzgerald's, who averages $16 million a year, then they are wrong.
The fairest thing that could work for all sides, in my opinion, would be to put Graham in the $10 million club in average salary and in the neighborhood of $20 million in guaranteed money. That average and guaranteed dollars would put Graham well in the top ten with players like DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace. Graham is at the very least as valuable to the Saints as those players are to their respective teams, in some cases even more.
As for their salary cap constraints, the Saints can structure the first or first two years of the deal to be very cap friendly. For instance that Gronkowski deal above only carried a cap hit of $2.6 million in year one and $2.7 million in year two. The Saints will undoubtedly do this to help make all the numbers work at other positions.
That's what Loomis does better than anyone. I'll be curious to see how he does it again with Graham.