On Tuesday, the New Orleans Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract including $21 million guaranteed. There is no doubt that Graham deserved the long-term contract extension for his tremendous success.
The Saints drafted Graham with the 95th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He was clearly underused during his rookie season when he started only five games. In 15 games, he totaled 31 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns. That is a really good season for a tight end that only started five games. The Saints began to utilize him more during his second season, 2011, and that is when he cemented himself as one of the best, if not the best, tight ends in the league.
Saints' quarterback Drew Brees had an amazing season in 2011; 5,476 passing yards, 46 touchdowns against 14 interceptions and a 71.2 completion percentage. Part of the reason why he was terrific that season was because of Graham. In one year, Graham went from being arguably the third-best receiver to the best receiver on the team. He was a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the field and down the field as he snagged a lot of passes from Brees. Graham's phenomenal season also helped open additional running lanes for running backs like Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. He ended up with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Graham's season was so good that he finished inside the top 10 in receptions (third), receiving yards (seventh) and reception touchdowns (tied for fourth); among other statistics. He clearly solidified his place as one of the best tight ends in the league in 2011 and he has only gotten better since that season.
Graham's best season in the league was definitely this past season; 2013. He was absolutely phenomenal during that season by catching 86 passes for 1,215 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns. With New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski battling injuries, it appears that Graham has officially cemented himself as the best tight end in the league. Graham definitely wanted to play well for many reasons during the 2013 season. One of the reasons had to have been for a substantial increase in his annual salary.
In his first four years in the league, Graham earned a grand total of $2.45 million. He has proven his worth is much higher by totaling 301 catches for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns during that time span. Those numbers are outstanding for any receiver; let alone a tight end. A terrific start to his career and a great 2013 season, led to an interesting offseason Graham. His contract was set to expire this past offseason, March 11, and he had not been able to negotiate a contract extension with the Saints. This led to him becoming a free agent for nearly four months.
In June, Graham was trying to plead his franchise tag case that he should be paid like a wide receiver; instead of like a tight end. The reason why he wanted to be paid like a wide receiver is because the franchise tag on wide receivers is significantly higher than for tight ends. If Graham had won his appeal, then he would have been assigned a $12.3 wide receiver franchise tag. His primary argument for his case was that he lined up as a wide receiver on two-thirds of the snaps in 2013. Despite this statistic and others, NFL arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled on July 2 that Graham was a tight end for franchise tag purposes. The assignment of the franchise tag gave the Saints until Tuesday at 4 p.m. to work out a long-term contract with Graham.
They were able to successfully negotiate their long-term contract with Graham as it was finalized on Tuesday; as mentioned earlier:
It's official I'm bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support.— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) July 15, 2014
Numerous NFL experts and fans will be debating over the next week to month whether Graham deserved a more lucrative deal. His deal surpassed former Indianapolis Colts' tight end Dallas Clark as the most lucrative contract for a tight end; Clark received $27.55 million in the first three years of his 2008 contract. The Saints' long-term contract is huge because now they have their two best players, Brees and Graham, under contract for at least the next three seasons. Those two players are extremely valuable to the Saints because of their immense talents. Brees is perfect for Sean Payton's system because he is terrific at throwing quick, accurate passes. There is no doubt that the Saints would be a sub-.500 team if any other quarterback, outside of the elite ones, was running the helm. Graham has definitely been a huge reason why Brees is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Graham is great at stretching the field with his tremendous route running ability and incredible vertical. This allows Brees to throw quick passes to Graham if he is running underneath or throw 'jump balls' to him. Brees and Graham are a great duo that should thrive with the Saints for at least three more seasons; Brees' contract expires at the end of the 2016 season. Graham is only 27-years-old and is beginning to challenge Calvin Johnson and others as the best receiver in the game. Only time will tell if the Saints gave Graham the right amount of money or if it was a bargain.
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