(AP Photo) Jimmy Graham is in line for a big payday with the Saints
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 No. 1 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 10 in all pass catchers, regardless of position.
According to spotrac, in terms of total value, the game's highest-paid tight end is New England's Rob Gronkowski who signed an eight year, $55 million contract, with $13 million guaranteed. St.Louis' Jared Cook has the most guaranteed money at $16 million and Dallas' Jason Witten has the biggest average salary at $7.4 million.
Given his age, productivity than availability, Graham should make more in all three areas than Gronkowski, Cook and Witten.
The top-earning wide receiver is Calvin Johnson who signed a seven-year, $113 million deal with $48 million guaranteed.
Johnson is the best receiver in the game, period. Graham is not on his level. That's not a knock on Graham, that's just how good Johnson is.
Graham deserves to be paid in the middle of these two groups; it's just a matter of how much.
That's the real debate here.
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.
Some have suggested putting Graham in the $10 million (average per year salary) club. Count me in that group. Giving him that plus in the neighborhood of $20 million in guaranteed money would put Graham on par 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.
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