Graham, Saints agree to contract

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Jul 15 2014 04:32:27 PM EDT

Jeff Haynes/Reuters

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham received the wide receiver money he wanted Tuesday.

Team officials confirmed to The Sports Xchange that a deal was done, but would not discuss financial details. NFL Network reported the agreement includes $13 million of guaranteed money this year and $8 million for injury only in 2015. CBS Sports reports the deal is a two-year, $21 million pact, but the contract reportedly could be worth a maximum of $40 million over four years.

"It's official I'm bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support," Graham tweeted Tuesday morning.

ESPN reported the deal would be four years, $40 million.

The agreement was hammered out after talks reconvened Monday night and concluded hours before the 4 p.m. ET Tuesday deadline for franchise players to sign a new long-term contract.

Graham otherwise would have been eligible for $7.035 million this year as a franchised player. Graham fought for franchise compensation equal to a wide receiver, which is $12.312 million for the franchise year.

His average of $10 million a year would rate Graham No. 7 among the league's highest paid wide receivers, but it sets a benchmark for tight ends. It is especially meaningful for those who, like Graham, are often primary targets and deployed in much the same manner as a wide receiver.

Graham's new deal will surely throw gas on the fire that is burning in San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who has two years left on a six-year, $42.7 million extension he signed in 2010, deal but made a statement that he wants a new and bigger deal by missing OTAs and the minicamp.

The 49ers are scheduled to report to training camp July 23.

If Davis doesn't get a new deal, he can hold out and let the fines build up, or he can show up and accept the $4.7 million he is due in his base salary this year. Like Graham, Davis is often used as a wide receiver, both in alignment and function.

Graham's situation dominated headlines in New Orleans, and on the minds of all tight ends, since he was franchised in February and the NFL management council tagged him as a tight end. The NFL Players Association filed a grievance for Graham offering that he should be compensated as a wide receiver. But arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled on July 2 that Graham should be designated as a tight end for franchise purposes. The Saints stated publicly they did not like the basis for that decision -- basically how often he lined up within four yards of a tackle -- and the team was concerned that the arbiter's decision was vulnerable to be overturned on appeal.

Burbank said Graham lined up in the slot for 51.7 percent of his plays and within four yards of the offensive tackle for 54.6 percent of his plays, which. he concluded, made the player a tight end.

"The evidence supports findings that since the early 1960s, clubs have deployed tight ends in multiple locations," Burbank said in his ruling. "During the same period, many tight ends have often lined up in a flexed position more than two yards from the offensive tackle, and tight ends often line up in the slot."

The team wanted the decision to be based on what team units Graham met with and how he was defensed.

On Monday, the NFLPA filed an appeal, which seemed to ignite negotiations.

In 2013 New Orleans offered Graham a deal that would have surpassed the record $54 million, six-year deal given to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

After rejecting that deal, Graham had another great season, with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. And he did it while playing with a torn plantar fascia and an injured elbow.

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