A grievance hearing in a couple of weeks will officially determine Jimmy Graham's position. But as I've maintained all along, a long term deal should be the ultimate goal here. Aside from the winning side gaining some leverage, any ruling by arbitrator Stephen Burbank will essentially be meaningless to the organization if a deal is worked out. If both sides can agree to terms before June 17th, this hearing won't even take place.
With that in mind, I'm putting my GM hat back on and offering an amended contract proposal to Graham. It's slightly different than the one I proposed back in March.
The headline would read: 5 years, $55 million, $27 million guaranteed with a $20 million signing bonus.
It would breakdown like this:
*Base Salary guaranteed in 2014, 2015
Why this works for Graham
With the way the numbers break down, Graham is easily the highest paid tight end in all categories. But making him the highest paid tight end is the easy part, it's how high do the Saints put him among wide receivers that's gotten them and Graham to this point. When stacking this contract up against other wide receivers, Graham would put him fifth in average salary at $11 million and third in guaranteed money at $27 million. He would trail only Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald in this crucial category, guaranteed money is the most important number to players in negotiations.
More importantly, by guaranteeing the first two base salaries, Graham would essentially collect all of his guaranteed money in the first two years of the deal.
Why this works for Saints
First and foremost, it basically tells Graham that they see him as one of the premier pass catchers in the league regardless of position. It would also enhance their reputation that the Saints will pay premier talent their market value.
It also keeps the cap hits in the first two years pretty reasonable. The team already had $7 million factored into this year's cap number based on the tight end franchise tag amount. The second year cap hit is only $8million.
This contract is worded to revisit again in 2017 when the cap hit balloons to $14 million. At that time, the salary cap could substantially rise plus several big contracts will be off the books. For Saints management, this could very easily be considered a 3year/$34 million contract.