Now I'm taking it one step further and putting my GM hat on and have come up with a contract proposal for Graham's camp that would be fair for all sides.
It's actually pretty simple. The deal is for five years worth $50million, $25 million guaranteed with a $14 million signing bonus.
The contract would breakdown like this:
*Base salaries for year 1 and year 2 are guaranteed.
(Note: ** I am omitting any roster/workout bonuses for the purposes of this example.A real contract extension would have those built but to keep things simple I left them out in this example)
Why it works
In terms of guaranteed money, average salary and signing bonus this would make Graham THE highest paid tight end in football. But more importantly, it also puts him in the top seven in all wide receiver categories as well. His $10 million average salary would be seventh in the league. The $25 million in guaranteed money would be fifth. His $14 million signing bonus would rank third.
The signing bonus would allow Graham to collect $14 million upon signing the contract. Cap rules would allow the Saints to spread that money out over the life of the contract in terms of the yearly cap hit. This is why in years 1-5 $2.8 million is listed in the ‘signing bonus' category; that is the yearly prorated bonus amount. By guaranteeing the first two years' base salaries, Graham would collect $16 million in 2014 and $25 million over the first two seasons of the deal.
From the Saints perspective, they stay true to their reputation that they are not afraid to pay for quality. With this contract, the Loomis/Payton era would have given the largest contracts (at the time) to a tight end, quarterback and guard. That's important to players around the NFL. No team wants to be labeled cheap with their premier talent.
It also provides them a much more manageable cap number in 2014. The $4.8million year one cap hit would be well less than either tight end or wide receiver franchise tag amounts. That would give them a little more flexibility in not only signing their biggest priority but also bringing back another free agent like Zach Strief, Brian de la Puente or Malcolm Jenkins.
As for the future cap hits, yes they are high. But remember in 2015 more expensive veterans would come off the books, thus the Saints will be in a better fiscal position to absorb a bigger cap hit that year. It would also ensure the Saints would have to make some sort of adjustment to Drew Brees' contract which would carry a $26 million cap hit next year, which is likely what is was designed to do anyway. Also years three, four and five of the deal would be the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Realistically, the team will have a very different makeup at that time. Backloading contracts to where the biggest cap hits come at the end of the deal is a common practice in the NFL.
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