Jimmy Graham negotiations

Graham will become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, and the Saints won't have a problem giving Graham that distinction.

I've confirmed the Saints sent their latest contract offer to Graham's camp two months ago, before he opened the season with monstrous numbers. Notice the use of "latest contract offer." The team has indeed been actively pursing a new deal for their best offensive weapon, but it takes two parties for negotiations to commence.

For now, Graham is content on playing under the terms of the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him $1.323 million this season.

I wasn't made privy to the new terms discussed at the bargaining table, but my guess is the offer exceeded the contract signed by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski two years ago, which was a six-year deal reportedly maxing out at $54 million.

Graham's contract situation is reminiscent of the way talks began between the Saints and Drew Brees nearly two years ago before Brees ultimately received his lucrative extension.

After the Patriots' Tom Brady signed his deal in 2011 that made him the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history, the Saints offered Brees a contract that would have surpassed Brady's. Brees and his agent, Tom Condon, passed on the initial offer.

It took two more seasons, a franchise tag and another four months before Brees and the Saints finally agreed to a then-record five-year, $100 million deal.
In 2011, Peyton Manning received the franchise tag by the Indianapolis Colts. It took Manning another five months to receive a long-term deal. Condon also represents Manning.

Unless something drastically changes, I would anticipate Graham's contract negotiations to play out in the same fashion as Brees and Manning. Why? Graham's agent is Jimmy Sexton, who works for the same firm as Condon -- Creative Artists Agency. 

Graham's camp might not only be looking for him to cash in as the highest-paid tight end in league history but also get a pay scale in line with elite receivers such as Detroit's Calvin Johnson (eight years, $132 million maximum) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (eight years, $120 million). Graham leads the league in receiving yards even after last week's game against New England in which he was held without a catch. He's become one of the best skill position players in the NFL.

But the likelihood of Graham getting receiver-type money like Johnson or Fitzgerald is zero. 

How much is Graham seeking? It's not been made public, and the Saints may not even know as Pro Football Talk reported recently that Graham's representatives hadn't made a counterproposal.

At least the Saints knew Brees' asking price.

Here's how I predict the next several months will play out in negotiations between the Saints and Graham:

A new deal won't be reached this season.

The Saints will be forced to use the franchise tag on Graham, at a rate of about $6 million for next season - the average for the league's five highest-paid tight ends. I'm not buying he'll be tagged as a wide receiver.

The two sides eventually will strike a deal during the summer closer to Gronkowski's contract as opposed to the Johnson and Fitzgerald deals.

Saints fans, you should already be battle tested after Brees' contract tussle. Prepare yourself accordingly for another long process with Graham.

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