Jimmy Graham

The debate continues on how the Seahawks use Jimmy Graham

Here’s one call Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell made this year no one can disagree with.

Early in the season, when a reporter again brought up the name of Jimmy Graham, Bevell smiled and said “it’s always going to be a question for us, I know that.”
Indeed it is.

The latest to wonder about how the Seahawks are using Graham is Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu, who was quoted this week as saying “I don’t think they use him quite as creatively as the Saints used him. I played against Jimmy in 2013 when he was with the Saints, and I mean he was all over the field. The biggest thing with them was [they] created mismatches for him, and [Sunday] he wasn’t really in a position where we felt like it was a mismatch. We felt like we had great cover guys on him all the time, and those two weeks we had to prepare for them, it really helped us a whole lot.”

Those comments came after a game in which Graham had three receptions for 40 yards but could have maybe doubled those numbers had he been able to control every pass that came his way. In the 2013 game Mathieu is referring to Graham had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns, a contest won by the Saints 31-7.

Creativity may in some ways be in the eye of the beholder. What we do know is that Graham was always going to be used differently by the Seahawks due to the nature of their offense, and that he has been.

According to numbers from Pro Football Focus, Graham has lined up as an in-line tight end roughly 60 percent of the time this season. That compares to about 37 percent of the time with the Saints.

But some of that figured to come with the territory of playing for a Seattle team that runs it on 47 percent of snaps (which is down from the 52 of last season) compared to only about 37 for the Saints last season.

According to PFF’s numbers, Graham has been sent out on routes on 60 percent of his snaps. He has been used as a run blocker 35 percent of time and as a pass blocker 5 percent of the time (the pass blocking basically the same as in New Orleans). The run blocking is more, but as Seattle’s coaches have pointed out, a team can’t simply just pass every time he is in the game or teams would figure that out. There’s also the fact that many plays can be changed at the line of scrimmage, with the play sent in having a run-pass option.

Graham has 41 catches for 491 yards, each numbers that lead the Seahawks, on track for 73 receptions and 873 yards. Those numbers are down from his New Orleans days — he had at least 85 catches and 889 yards each of the last four seasons. But given Seattle’s run-pass ratio, it’s not really that out of line percentage-wise from his numbers in New Orleans.

Graham is averaging almost seven targets per game (62 in nine games). He averaged 7.75 last year with the Saints — so, basically getting one fewer target per game and with a team that throws it roughly 10 percent less.

Another way to look at it is the percentage of Graham’s targets of his team’s total passes. As we detailed earlier this year, Graham was targeted on 22.3 percent of his passes in 2011, his best season with the Saints.

Last year, Graham got 18.8 percent of the Saints’ targets (124 of 659). This year with the Seahawks, Graham is being targeted on 23 percent of Seattle’s attempts (62 of 266).

What is down — and may be doing the most to color the perception of how Graham is being used — are touchdowns. Graham has just two with the Seahawks after having nine or more each of the last four years with the Saints,including 16 in 2013.

How creatively —or simply how — the Seahawks are using Graham will be a subject of debate all season. But the numbers indicate the team can’t really be accused of ignoring him.

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Bears' Martellus Bennett: Jimmy Graham 'can't block worth (expletive)'

Martellus Bennett, like his brother in Seattle, has never shied away from saying what's on his mind. On Thursday, the Bears tight end opened up about an issue that is apparently weighing on him.

And, in the process of opening up, Bennett had some not-so-kind things to say about other tight ends around the league, including Jimmy Graham of the Seahawks.

"You see Jimmy [Graham]. Jimmy can't block worth shit," Bennett said, via ESPN. "They get a lot of credit and a lot of love. But Julius Thomas doesn't block anybody. Antonio Gates doesn't really block anybody. But they do a great job in the passing game. It all depends on the system that they're in."

Oh, and while we're on the topic, Bennett also doesn't seem entirely happy about his role in Chicago's system, saying that he's the team's third or fourth target and "that's the way it's been" his entire career.

"I have to kick ass at the line of scrimmage and kick ass down the field," Bennett said. "Those guys are pass-catching tight ends and they get that freedom to run down the field. Nobody is asking them to pass protect or be one-on-one with the No. 1 pass-rusher."

In many ways, Bennett is correct. I won't use the same language that he used, but he's right about Graham's nonexistent blocking. Thomas was signed by the Jaguars to catch passes, not block. And, he's right that Gates is one of the Chargers' top targets (for what it's worth, Bennett heaped praised on Gates, saying that he's "always loved" him).

Bennett also happens to be correct about his role in Adam Gase's offense. Bennett is often asked to block and he is a dual-threat. Unfortunately, the part where Bennett's argument loses some steam is his claim that he's the third or fourth target on the team. So far this season, Bennett is actually the Bears' leader in targets with 58, though that high number is related to Alshon Jeffery's injury woes.

But Bennett seems to be upset about the recent dip in his production, as he's caught only 13 passes in the last three games.

"I have a lot of responsibilities in the offense," Bennett said. "You guys have to talk to Jay Cutler and [offensive coordinator] Adam Gase about [if my role has changed in recent weeks]. I'm just trying to be a really good employee. That's all. I'm not really tripping. Whatever they ask me to do is what I do. At some point they have to come my way but until they do there is nothing I can do about it. I'm open, so.

"[I don't want to] be a bad employee. I just keep my head down and go to work. Because when you say something you become the asshole even if it's a valid point. So I just avoid drama. They don't pay the asshole. At this point I just want to be a really good employee."

It's worth noting that Bennett, who held out this summer, is under contract with the Bears until the end of the 2016 season. It's also worth noting that Bennett's targets could drop next season when first-round pick Kevin White, a wide receiver, returns from an injury that could wind up sidelining him for his entire rookie season.

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Seahawks find success splitting TE Jimmy Graham out wide

When asked about flexing Jimmy Graham out wide against the Cowboys, head coach Pete Carroll pointed out that the Seattle Seahawks have used him that way all season.

"We’ve really done that in every game," Carroll said. "Maybe you haven’t noticed it, but he did catch a couple balls from outside. He’s been out in every game, so we continue to do that."

But in the first seven weeks, Graham caught three balls for 18 yards when split out wide like a receiver, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In Week 8 against the Cowboys, he caught three balls for 28 yards from that alignment.

On one play, the Seahawks isolated Graham on the left side, and the Cowboys matched up cornerback Morris Claiborne against him in man coverage. Graham ran a slant, used his big frame to get position in front of Claiborne and picked up 11 yards.

They went to a similar look later in the quarter. This time, the Cowboys were in zone coverage, but Graham still picked up 9.

And on a key third down on the game-winning drive, the Seahawks lined Graham up out wide once again. This time, wide receiver Tyler Lockett was in the slot, and the rookie set a pick on Graham's defender, giving him space on a slant that picked up 8 yards and a first down.

"We want to move [him] all around the field," said quarterack Russell Wilson. "... We want to find different ways in getting him the football and make it tough on the defense. We were able to get him the ball there several different times, and he came up with some catches. We should have had more."

Graham finished with seven catches for 75 yards against the Cowboys. This season, he's the team's leading receiver and on pace for 76 catches and 900 yards.

Graham has eight catches of 20-plus yards, already matching his total from last season. The one area where the Seahawks need to get more from him is in the red zone. Graham has three red-zone catches for eight yards and one touchdown, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But with an impressive three-game stretch, his role in the offense appears better defined. And don't be surprised if they split Graham out wide more in the second half of the season.

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Jimmy Graham: Grabs seven passes for 75 yards

Graham caught 7-of-10 targets for 75 yards in Sunday's 13-12 win at Dallas.

Graham could have had a bigger game, but he and Russell Wilson's timing were a little off on a couple of deep shots. The star TE continues to be either completely uninvolved or a beast, with little in between. The lack of consistency might be frustrating to fantasy owners, but his upside cannot be ignored. He and the Seahawks will be on bye next week, before facing the Cardinals at home in Week 10.

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ESPN’s Trent Dilfer: Gap between Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham ‘a chasm’

Trent Dilfer called to discuss topics related to the Monday night matchup between Carolina and Indianapolis. But after 15 minutes talking about Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula, Dilfer had something else he wanted to get off his chest.

Dilfer, the former Tampa Bay quarterback and current ESPN analyst, thinks Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is a special talent. And Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham, who’s been to two more Pro Bowls than Olsen?

Dilfer says he’s not in Olsen’s league.

“I think the gap between (Olsen) and Jimmy Graham is a chasm, not a gap,” Dilfer said Thursday.

While Pro Football Focus views Olsen as the league’s worst run-blocking tight end, Dilfer believes Olsen’s blocking is better than Graham’s.

“The Seahawks running the football with Graham on the field are pathetic. Brutal. With him off the field, they’re dynamic,” Dilfer said. “Greg Olsen’s playing 90 percent of the snaps and they’re leading the league in rushing. And he’s a dynamic receiver.”

Olsen, who went to his first Pro Bowl last season, is third among tight ends (trailing Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski and former Panther Gary Barnidge) with an average of 73.2 receiving yards a game.

Graham is 12th among tight ends at 53.6.

Dilfer says the 6-foot-7 Graham thrived in the Saints’ offense because of Sean Payton’s ability to get him in isolation matchups. He says Graham also caught a lot of passes against soft zones “where anybody can get open.”

Dilfer doesn’t think Graham is a bad player. But he thinks it’s time Olsen received his due.

“This guy’s one of the most underappreciated players in football,” Dilfer said. “He is amazing.”

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Jimmy Graham Has Breakout Performance

The tight end had his most productive game of the season, with eight catches for 140 yards on 12 targets. Graham was especially effective finding room downfield when Russell Wilson scrambled. Four of his catches gained 20 yards or more.

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Pete Carroll: We’d love to get more from Jimmy Graham

No one thought that Jimmy Graham’s role in the Seattle offense would be an exact replica of his role with the Saints, but it’s probably safe to say that most people thought he’d be playing a different role than he’s played through the first five weeks of the season.

Graham has 21 catches for 204 yards on the year and has been targeted just 27 times, including five times in last Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. None of those targets came in the final quarter-plus when the Seahawks were trying to hold off a Bengals comeback in regulation or when they were trying to win the game in overtime, which Seahawks coach Pete Carroll addressed by saying the team could “use more” from Graham.

“We’d love to get more,” Carroll said, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. “We’d love to get more from everybody. I’d love to get the ball in his hands more. He did well in this game, but we could use more. We only completed 15 passes in this game, so we need to get more activity out of him, just like we need to get more out of the other guys too. But he’s working hard at it.”

A breakdown of Graham’s role in the offense shows that he’s lining up as an in-line tight end and going out for passes far less often than he was with New Orleans. That was expected, but he’s also being targeted less often than he was with the Saints and that’s a little harder to figure after weakening their offensive line and giving up a first-round pick to add Graham and his salary to the roster.

While it’s understandable that the Seahawks would love get more from Graham, they probably have to give a little more if they’re going to get it.

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Struggles for Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham continue in Week 5 loss

Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham had three catches on five targets for 30 yards Sunday against the Bengals.

The Seahawks' offensive line continues to struggle, which doesn't give Graham much time to get open on plays when he's running routes. He scored touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 3, but he's failed to reach even 35 passing yards in the other three games. He continues to have elite receiving skills, but quarterback Russell Wilson spreads the ball around enough that it makes it very tough to project when Graham could break out. Up next is a Week 6 home game against Carolina.

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TD Streak Extended - 8 TDs Scored

EIGHT #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 3 of the NFL!

#‎Colts RB Frank Gore (2), WR Phillip Dorsett (1), #‎Panthers TE Greg Olsen (2), #‎Jags WR Allen Hurns (1), #‎Browns WR Travis Benjamin (1), #‎Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham (1).

Frank Gore's first TD extended the streak to 9 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL.

Phillip Dorsett scored his first ever NFL TD, and Frank Gore scored his first TD as a Colt.

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Seahawks call Jimmy Graham's number in win over Bears

SEATTLE -- Jimmy Graham won't have to worry about addressing reports that he's frustrated and unhappy this week.

The Seattle Seahawks tight end gave the offense a much-needed boost, finishing with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in the team's 26-0 victory over the Chicago Bears.

After Seattle's Week 2 loss to the Packers, Graham was left to answer questions about why he only had one catch on two targets. But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Russell Wilson got Graham going early in this one, dialing up his number on the first play of the game.

In the third quarter, Graham showed why he's such a valuable weapon. He made a catch near the Bears' 10-yard line, broke a tackle, pin-balled through defenders and got in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown.

As Graham has pointed out, the Seahawks are a run-first offense. But when they are sputtering (two field goals on six first-half possessions) on that side of the ball, calling on Graham is a smart solution. He is one of the biggest matchup problems in the league, can pick up yards after the catch and has shown the ability to make contested catches.

There's a fine line between forcing him the ball and letting Graham make plays within the framework of the scheme. But clearly, giving him opportunities can add a new element to the Seahawks offense. This was the kind of performance Seahawks fans envisioned when the team acquired Graham from the Saints this offseason.

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Pete Carroll: Jimmy Graham’s frustrated, ‘wants the ball’

RENTON — Tight end Jimmy Graham very well might be frustrated by the start of his Seahawks career, Pete Carroll said Monday. Seattle’s coach wouldn’t expect anything else.

“I think he is (frustrated),’’ Carroll said. “I think he’s a competitor. He wants the ball. He wants to help us win, I don’t think there’s any question about that. I feel that, too.’’

The task now is to figure out how to integrate Graham better into the Seattle offense, which also would likely go a long way toward helping solve some of the Seahawks’ other offensive woes that have contributed to a surprising 0-2 start.

Graham had just one reception for 11 yards, on just two passes thrown to him in the 27-17 defeat Sunday at Green Bay. His only catch came midway through the third quarter. The other pass thrown his way came in the first quarter.

“We were trying to go to him on four of the first five passes,’’ Carroll said. “We really have had an intent, just like you would think, that we want him to be a big part of the offense.’’

Carroll said that several factors played into the lack of passes thrown Graham’s way.

One example was a play where Graham was the primary receiver. But at the snap, quarterback Russell Wilson noticed the Packers were misaligned, leaving another receiver uncovered, so Wilson went in that direction instead.

“It’s just the way it’s worked out,’’ Carroll said. “I’m not panicked by that at all. It maybe sounds like some other people are really worried about it, but we are working on it and it’s going to get worked out.’’

The Seahawks acquired Graham via trade from New Orleans in March, sending center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice to the Saints (while also getting a fourth-rounder in return).

The Seahawks hope Graham — whose 355 receptions since 2011 are the fifth-most in the NFL over that span — will become a player opposing defenses have to key on, freeing up others. It hasn’t happened so far.

“I don’t think we have forced that yet,’’ Carroll said. “We have seen defenses basically work to take care of the running game.’’

Indeed, the Packers seemed intent on containing Marshawn Lynch, who was held to 41 yards on 15 carries, a lower rushing total than all but two games last season.

The Seahawks adjusted at halftime by throwing more and encouraging Wilson to run more.

Seattle had a pass-to-run ratio of 20-11 in the second half and Wilson had 65 yards on eight carries in the second half to finish with 78 on 10 carries for the game.

But Graham remained uninvolved other than his lone reception, which came during the touchdown drive that put Seattle ahead 17-13 midway through the third quarter.

One missed opportunity involving Graham came with 7:24 left in the game.

From the Seattle 29, Graham — lined up as a tight end with his hand down — broke behind the Green Bay defense.

Wilson appeared to initially look his way, but was then flushed from the pocket and decided not to throw, running for a 13-yard gain instead.

On the next play, Wilson’s screen pass intended for Lynch was picked off, essentially deciding the game.

“Unfortunately, on the drive where we turned the ball over, we didn’t get that shot,’’ Carroll said.

Carroll, though, also said it’s “not unusual’’ to need time to figure out the best way to utilize players, comparing it to the seemingly annual way the team juggles its defensive-line rotation early in the season before settling on the right mix of players.

“We thought maybe we were a little bit further ahead than that,’’ Carroll said. “We’ve got work to do yet.’’

Graham didn’t speak to the media after the game and an NFL.com report surmised Graham might be frustrated with his role in the Seattle offense compared to his time in New Orleans.

Graham said last Thursday, though, he isn’t worrying about how he is used by the Seahawks.

“That’s the past,’’ he said. “I don’t concern myself with it. … My philosophy is if he throws it, I catch it. That’s about it, man.’’

Carroll said that while Graham might be frustrated by the results so far, it’s only because he wants the team to start winning.

“He has worked hard,’’ Carroll said. “He’s great about it. He wants to do everything he can to help us. I don’t have any doubt about that.’’

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New Powerade Ad Starring Jimmy Graham Is Chillingly Powerful

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WATCH: Jimmy Graham leaps, rips away touchdown from Seahawks DB

The Seahawks like to talk about new tight end Jimmy Graham's willingness to contribute to the running game by blocking for the first time in his career. But really, the team didn't trade for him so that he could help Marshawn Lynch run through defenders.

This is why the Seahawks brought in Graham, a tight end with 386 catches and 51 touchdowns in his career.

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Jimmy Graham: 'I see the red zone as my zone'

What is the top asset you can add to the offense?
Jimmy Graham: I think definitely I’ll have some big opportunities in the red zone with such a great running game here. We will try to get the matchups we want by moving me around and using multiple tight end sets. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I have running ability and leaping ability. For me, that’s always been natural -- the ability to attack the ball in the air. I see the red zone as my zone. I’ve got red hair. That’s the reason they call it the red zone. I just get more confidence down there.

Russell Wilson has been compared to Drew Brees in the past. What similarities do you see now that you’ve been around both of them?
Graham: Truly, my relationship with Russ has been above and beyond my wildest imagination of how close we’ve become since I got here. Drew was like my big brother, but me and Russ are closer in age and it’s like having a twin brother in a lot of ways. The connection for us was immediate and it’s special. He has made my transition so easy because of our bond. On the field, we are just scratching the surface of what we will be able to do.

A couple of Seattle players were critical of you in the past. How do you feel your new teammates have accepted you?
Graham: One of the great things about going to Maui [35 Seahawks doing offseason workouts in April] was for all those guys to see who I am as a person and get to know me, because I’ve started a couple of fights [with Seattle players] before. I’m kind of a chippy player. I honestly play with every emotion I have in my body. Sometimes it comes off as maybe not the nicest person and maybe not the most humble. So it was good for [the Seahawks] to see that I am a humble guy and I’m just here to work. I’m not a selfish person at all. And these are really good guys. When you see them from the outside, you always want to know what is different about this team? Until you get in here, you don’t realize how much of a brotherhood it is and how close everyone is.

This offense is based on the power running game of Marshawn Lynch. Do you feel you can contribute as a blocker, and how can you improve your blocking?
Graham: I’m 270 pounds. For me, that’s been the main focus of this offseason, to get my mind wrapped around this running game. It is a little different. I’ve never been in a read-option system. For me, it’s some different concepts. Their footwork is a lot different than the way I’ve done it, but man, it’s exciting. It’s something new, and the evolution of my game and growing as a player. I think it’s the perfect situation. You have the best running back in the NFL, and I’m excited to be a part of that.

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WATCH: Jimmy Graham's first catch as a Seahawk

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Carroll 'couldn't believe' Saints wanted to trade Jimmy Graham

The trade of tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints to the Seattle Seahawks in March came as a shock to pretty much everyone, including Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.

During an appearance on 950 AM KJR in Seattle on Wednesday morning, Carroll said that he expressed disbelief when he was first told about the possibility of Graham coming to Seattle.

"I couldn't believe they'd give him up," Carroll said. "I (said) 'Why would they do that? Why would they give him up?' Because we didn't know the whole story.

"Later we figure out that they had somewhat of a falling out with some issues about his franchise tag number and all that kind of stuff and they had to go to court with it and it was a very difficult situation and all that. It made him available. All the way through the process, I couldn't believe they were doing it. (General manager John Schneider) kept moving it, and it was going along, and I thought they were going to pull the plug on it, but they didn't."

The Saints' loss is Seattle's gain though, and Carroll is happy to have Graham, saying that things have worked out despite some of the jawing Graham had in the past with Seahawks players.

"We've acquired a great football player and a great kid," Carroll said. "He's mixed so well with our players, which you might have thought would be different because there was some talk and some yapping, but that was just competitive stuff."

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Jimmy Graham to block '75 percent' of the time

Jimmy Graham isn't perceived as a good blocker. Whether perception is reality -- or whether recent injuries have sapped his ability to block -- we will find out now that he's in the Seattle Seahawks' run-first offense.

"(In New Orleans) the last two years, I was pretty banged up, so midway through the year I kind of stopped blocking and I just routed people up," Graham said Monday, per the Seattle Times. "Now here I'm blocking quite a bit, and I love it. It's very important to me to be a part of that here. That's about 75 percent of the offense here. When you have a back like that, you want to be in there on those explosive runs, and you want to be a part of that."

On the other 25 percent of plays, Graham will do what he does best: Catch the ball.

"Third-and-10 is when I'm going to make my money and that's when I'm going to have to be special for this team," he said. "Down there in the red zone. That's just what I've always done. I'm doing the most down there. There's a lot of matchup problems and with Marshawn (Lynch) in the backfield and their safeties play too flat and I just see a ton of opportunities there."

The Seahawks brought in Graham to bolster a huge red-zone weakness. The 6-foot-7 target should make Russell Wilson's life easier near the end zone and in third-and-long. In all other situations Graham is prepared to block for Beast Mode. 

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Jimmy Graham excited to be part of 'something special'

New tight end Jimmy Graham has been a perfect fit for the Seahawks.

He has immediately hit it off with his teammates and his quarterback, Russell Wilson.

"It feels incredible to be here, to be part of something special like this," Graham said.

He has fit in well with the rest of the tight ends on the team. His relationship with Luke Willson, who finished last season as the starter, is so good they have come up with the nickname "The Bash Brothers." The name comes from "The Mighty Ducks" movie.

Graham talked Monday about how the team was involving him in blocking roles. As a New Orleans Saint, he wasn't asked to block much, and when he did, he wasn't very good at it.

"Yeah, I’m blocking here," Graham said. "Out there last year in New Orleans, I was pretty banged up. Midway through the year, I kinda stopped blocking. I just routed people up."

At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds with great speed, Graham is a matchup nightmare for opposing defense. If he can develop as a blocker, it could significantly add to the running offense that ranks among the best in football. Graham even predicts the team could use more two- and three-tight end sets.

As great as Graham was in New Orleans, he concedes he could be more dangerous in the Seahawks offense. The reason for the optimism is the mobility of Wilson.

"From what I've seen on film where they are special first, when they run the ball and No. 2, when Russell is extending plays," Graham said. "I love it because normally I'm the biggest guy on the field and hopefully I draw the most attention. The play truly is never over."

Graham said Drew Brees' immobility creates plenty of plays in which once he planted his feet on routes and he wasn't involved, the play was over for him. Because of Wilson's ability to extend plays, the play might be just beginning in the middle of a route.

It's pretty easy to see Graham is having a blast. Off the field, he has spent his off time flying around the area. Graham loves to fly planes. Even meetings are fun, he said. Coach Pete Carroll keeps meetings loose with videos and practicing up beat with music.

There are even basketball challenges taking place in every morning meeting. Surprisingly, the former college basketball star lost a one-on-one challenge Monday.
He’s so tall Graham complained the room doesn't have enough height that he can put the perfect arch on his shot.

"I felt like Shaq out there," he said.

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Jimmy Graham show begins in Seattle

RENTON, Wash. -- The crowd watching Seattle Seahawks training camp Saturday along the shore of Lake Washington roared its approval when Jimmy Graham leaped high to snatch a pass from Russell Wilson some 20 yards up the left sideline. This sort of play was precisely what the Seahawks had in mind when they traded a 2015 first-round pick for the Pro Bowl tight end.

Left unsaid, for the most part, was a key area where Seattle expects Graham to develop his game: Blocking. While Graham's former team, New Orleans, ranks first in total receptions and receptions by tight ends since 2012, Seattle ranks 32nd and 31st in those respective categories over the same three-year time period. Seattle has run the ball a league-high 46.9 percent of the time during that span. The Saints were at 34.3 percent, the second-lowest rate.

The running game will remain the Seahawks' top priority, even with Graham.

"That is not going to change," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after practice. "That is something that is part of us. It is at our core. It is our philosophy."

With contract-related stories involving Wilson, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor dominating headlines early in camp, Graham was not immediately available for interviews (he was scheduled to speak Monday). Numbers available through ESPN Stats & Information say a lot about the adjustment awaiting Graham.

Last season, the Saints ran the ball only 26.2 percent of the time on the 744 plays when Graham was on the field, compared to 55.7 percent on the 350 plays when he was not in the game. The difference between those two rates -- 29.5 percentage points -- was the second-largest in the NFL among the 10 tight ends with the highest totals for receiving yardage. Only the San Diego Chargers and Antonio Gates were more predictable from a run-pass differential standpoint among those 10 teams.

"We are going to run the football," Bevell said. "Jimmy is going to be in there. He is more than willing to do it. He is excited to do it."

Graham figures to be at his most valuable as a receiving target in the red zone, where Seattle ranked 20th last season with a 51.7 percent touchdown rate.

"What an exciting addition for a club and everyone can feel it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He and Russell have been together already, they’ve already got a feel for one another and we’re thrilled about it."

A 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame makes Graham a receiver quarterbacks have an easier time finding as they scan the field. That was helpful for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose height is listed at 6 feet. It could be similarly helpful for Wilson, who stands 5-10.

What's harder to see is whether Graham can be an asset as a legitimate blocker, not just a tight end who casually nudges a defender before releasing into pass routes. That is one area where Graham will need to develop.

"We have to move along further in camp to be able to assess everything, but right now, just his mentality, that is not something he is going to shy away from," Bevell said. "As we get through pads we'll be able to teach technique and those things and be able to move along."

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Jimmy Graham talks of being traded to Hawks, first impressions of team

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Jimmy Graham shows off ‘work suit’ for the first time

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Pete Carroll singles out Jimmy Graham

Coach Pete Carroll singled out Jimmy Graham as a player who stood out during OTAs.

Graham has taken to his new surroundings well. "He’s fit in with the players," Carroll said. "There was some talk about stuff in other seasons and all, that’s become part of the fun. He’s a great addition." Graham doesn't have the same ceiling he once did thanks to Seattle's run-based attack, but he'll be Russell Wilson's top target and a good bet for double-digit touchdowns again.

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Where will Jimmy Graham line up most for the Seahawks?

"A lot was made about where Jimmy Graham lines up during arbitration with the Saints. Where will 88 line up most for the Hawks?"

A: It’s too early to know exactly how the Seahawks will use Graham this season, but given the nature of Seattle’s offense, it’s safe to assume he’ll do more blocking than he did in New Orleans, where he was basically an oversized receiver. Given Seattle’s history with its tight ends, expect to see Graham move around plenty, lining up at times next to a tackle, but also in the slot and even split out wide as a receiver.

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Drew Brees misses Jimmy Graham

The Saints had a pretty lousy 2014 season. Picked by many idiots (ahem, sigh, etc) as a Super Bowl contender before last year, New Orleans didn't even make the playoffs despite looking "unstoppable" in the preseason. The Saints struggled most weeks to look competent on either offense or defense.

Offseason changes were aplenty, with Jimmy Graham out the door in a trade with the Seahawks and a future quarterback in Garrett Graham drafted in the third round. None of that is snuffing out Drew Brees optimism, with him telling ESPN (via Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune) he's "very convinced" he'll win another Super Bowl before he retires.

Brees previously talked about the Graham trade, noting that it "shocked us all," but reiterated to Ed Werder that he was "heartbroken" about losing his top target.

"I was heartbroken, because Jimmy's become a very close friend. We had five great years together, and I think just the the unexpectedness of it. We had big plans for the next few years and more so than anything else it's just not being able to see that guy every day. He's a joy to be around. He was great to play football with, but more importantly a great guy in the locker room," Brees said. "We had a ton of fun together. He's like a little brother. Obviously we just signed him to a big deal last year and you just have this long-term mindset with him. And then all of a sudden he's gone, the trade's made and listen I have full trust in this organization, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton, and the direction that we're going.

"And you trust that but man, you're certainly going to miss a guy like that."

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Jimmy Graham enough to give Seahawks strong offseason grade

With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps a few weeks away, we assess the Seattle Seahawks' offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.

Best move: Without question, it was the trade for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, even though it cost the Seahawks their first-round draft pick this year and starting center Max Unger. Graham will be a true difference-maker for Seattle's offense as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league, especially in the red zone. Defenses are going to have to account for him over the middle, which will open things up for the wide receivers and make running back Marshawn Lynch even more effective and more dangerous. Quarterback Russell Wilson now has a true go-to guy in the clutch.

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Jimmy Graham Unveiled On NFL Network's Top 100 Players Of 2015

He's yet to play an official down in blue and green, but tight end Jimmy Graham - acquired by Seattle in a March trade with the New Orleans Saints - is the fourth Seahawks player to appear on NFL Network's countdown of the Top 100 Players of 2015.

On Wednesday night, Graham was unveiled at No. 31 on the network's list, which is determined solely by NFL players. He joins strong safety Kam Chancellor (No. 41), linebacker Bobby Wagner (No. 69), and defensive end Michael Bennett (No. 90).

It's a slide in the player-driven pecking order for Graham, who was voted the 10th-best player in the League last year, a slot that made him the only tight end ever to appear in the Top 10 of the network's ranks.

At the time of his No. 10 vote, Graham was coming off a 2013 season that saw him haul in 86 balls for 1,215 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns, the second-most scores in the NFL that year to Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (19). But this past year Graham was hampered by a shoulder injury and his production dipped as a result, one of the likely factors in his year-over-year Top-100 fall to No. 31. He still managed to make a team-high 85 grabs for 889 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns in 2014, numbers that made the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham an attractive option for the Seahawks this offseason, even if it came at the expense of the team's starting center (Max Unger) and 2014 first-round pick (No. 31 overall).

Graham was able to get his feet wet with his new squad during a week of Russell Wilson-led workouts in the Hawaiian Islands this past April. Roughly one month later, after dealing with a loss in his family, Graham joined the club in an official capacity during OTAs (Organized Team Activities).

“It honestly feels like I’m back in college, that’s how close each and every person is on this team,” Graham said. “The way this team is and the way that this team is run is how it should be for the NFL. It’s such a sense of family here and brotherhood. It’s been incredible, it really has."

NFL Network's countdown of the Top 100 Players of 2015 continues next Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT with players ranked Nos. 30-21. Four Seahawks that made the list last year - cornerback Richard Sherman (No. 7), running back Marshawn Lynch (No. 14), free safety Earl Thomas (No. 17), and quarterback Russell Wilson (No. 20) - have yet to be unveiled on this year's ballot.


Jimmy Graham can block anyone

Jimmy Graham is one of the most-feared pass catchers in the NFL, but according to the All-Pro tight end, he can be an equally dominant blocker.

"Listen, man, I'm 270 pounds. I can block anybody I want to," he said, via 710 ESPN Seattle. "It's all about want-to. We'll see come this first Sunday."

Well, the Seahawks hope Graham is serious as he transitions into Seattle’s run-heavy system from the pass-happy Saints offense.

"For me, that's really the main focus of this offseason is really to get my mind wrapped around this run game because it is a little different," Graham told 710 ESPN recently. "I've never been in a read-option type of system, but they also do just straight-up run the ball. So for me it's some different concepts, and their footwork is a lot different than the way I've done it. But it's exciting, something new and I think just the evolution of kinda my game and growing as a player."

The entire Seahawks coaching staff has talked to Graham about the importance of blocking in their system, and according to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, “it’s something that he's totally willing to do.”

“He's excited about it,” Bevell said. “I think he kinda has a little chip; he wants to prove it as well. We're looking forward to that."

But let’s be honest for a moment. As long as Graham keeps hauling in touchdown passes — he has 51 in five season in the league — the Seattle media and coaching staff won’t harp on him too hard about his work at the line of scrimmage. 

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Jimmy Graham explains why basketball players are good tight ends

Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham was a college basketball player who became a Pro Bowl player in the NFL. That’s nothing new for his position.

The same was true for former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.

Graham only played one season of college football at the University of Miami, but four seasons of basketball. Gonzalez played football and basketball at California, helping the Bears make the Sweet 16 his junior year.

Gates was a high school basketball star in Detroit, averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds his senior season, before signing with Michigan State. But Nick Saban, who was the football coach at Michigan State at the time, wanted Gates to only play football.

Gates ended up at Kent State his final two years of college, averaging 21 points and 8 rebounds his senior season, when Kent State advanced to the Elite Eight.
So what is it about these guys that enabled them to become successful NFL tight ends after playing college basketball?

“We have really good body control and foot work,” Graham said on John Clayton’s 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. “When the ball’s in the air, it doesn’t matter where it is, we can adjust to it. And now when you come down, you don’t have to worry about a hardwood floor. You have some nice grass to land on.”

Or turf, but it's still softer than hardwood. Graham (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) is huge for an NFL tight end, but not so much for a forward in college basketball.

“A lot of the guys who transitioned from basketball to football were undersized big men, for the most part,’’ Graham said. “You get used to going against guys who are 6-11 or taller. You either have to be real strong or real tough or both.”

Graham said he learned a lot from Gonzalez, a former division rival in the NFC South when Graham played for the New Orleans Saints and Gonzalez was with the Falcons. Gonzalez was a 14-time Pro Bowl selection who retired after the 2013 season. He’s a lock for a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“My first Pro Bowl [2011] I was there with Tony and really picked his brain,” Graham said. “He looked to teach me a lot of things. Even though we were in the same division, he was so generous with giving me information. He would talk about how he preps in the offseason and all the little details.”

Graham said those tips have made a big difference in his career. Graham has made the Pro Bowl in three of the last four years, including the last two seasons. He has 51 career TD receptions, 40 of which came on plays that started in the red zone.

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Seahawks encouraged by Jimmy Graham’s blocking

Tight end Jimmy Graham is going from an offense that didn’t ask him to block all that much to an offense that will ask him to do so far more frequently.

Early returns on Graham’s blocking ability from the Seahawks have been mostly positive.

“I think Jimmy is going to be fine,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said Tuesday. “He cares so much. The only setback was missing that first week so some of the foundational stuff he missed out on and we will catch him up on that – he kind of came back right in the middle of the install. If anything that is maybe where he is a little bit behind. But I think he is doing wonderful and maybe is a lot more than people understood him to be and he certainly has proven that every day here.”

The sentiment from Graham is that he’s fully capable of being a good blocker, he just hasn’t been asked to very often.

“Listen man, I’m 270 pounds,” Graham said. “I can block anybody I want to. It’s all about want to.”

Marshawn Lynch is still set to be the team’s primary offensive cog and will work off their rushing attack. By nature, Graham will have to line up and block more frequently. It’s a task he’s happy to accept.

“Personally, I’m excited to block. When you go in the game and you’re guarded by corners and safeties for most of your career and you keep getting doubled, that’s never a good thing. I know that’s just going to help this offense out. It’ll help give looks to where guys can’t stack the box with 10 guys.

“So for me, it’s all positive. I can’t wait. That’s what I’ve been focusing on since I got here. The routes and the passing offense, that obviously comes natural. So for me, it about focusing on what they’re trying to do here, which is the running game. It’s the staple of this offense and I’m proud the be a part of it.”

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Jimmy Graham, Russell Wilson are on 'accelerated learning curve'

The connection forming between tight end Jimmy Graham and quarterback Russell Wilson is going even quicker than expected. Sometimes it can take a while, even for two superstars to develop on-field chemistry, but Wilson and Graham seem to be going at an accelerated pace.

"Throwing to him is easy," Wilson said, via The Seattle Times.

All reports out of OTAs is that Graham has been putting on a show and that him and Wilson have nearly been unstoppable in the red zone. Even Graham is a little surprised with how quickly him and Wilson are connecting.

"That stuff takes time," Graham said, "but honestly me and Russ have been on kind of this accelerated learning curve. He just gets it up and gives you an opportunity to be great. We'll be keep working on that, and we'll be just fine come the season, because that's a big thing. That's all about the connection, that's all about knowing what each other is going to do and what each other likes."

Graham understands that he is one of the biggest playmakers on the Seahawks and it will be up to him to go out there and make something happen.

"I know there will be times -- big moments in a game where I'm going to have to go out there and make a play," Graham said. "That's what I'm focusing on."

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Don't tell Jimmy Graham he can't block

RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham is 100 percent confident in his blocking skills. Questions about his blocking ability came up a couple of times after Tuesday’s organized team activity when Graham had five TD receptions in the red zone.

One reporter asked Graham how he would assess himself as a blocker.

“I could show you,” Graham said. “Listen man, I’m 270 pounds. I can block anybody I want to. It’s all about want to. We’ll see come the first Sunday.”

Graham’s blocking skills, or lack thereof, have been a topic throughout his career. He is widely viewed as one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL, but not among the best blockers at his position.

“Personally, I’m excited to block,” Graham said. “I can’t wait. That’s what I’ve been focusing on since I got here. The routes and the passing offense, that stuff obviously comes natural. So for me, it's about focusing on what they’re trying to do here, which is the running game. It’s the staple of this offense and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Does he feel like there’s a point to prove about his blocking?

“Not really,’’ he said. “I’m going to do what they tell me to do. If that’s go out and score, go out and catch or go out and hit somebody, I’m going to do it.”

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Jimmy Graham on the Seahawks: ‘Everything’s been amazing so far’

Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham met the media after Tuesday’s OTA, the first time he’s talked in person to Seattle reporters at-large since his trade from New Orleans.
Graham talked about his transition, his budding chemistry with quarterback Russell Wilson, and more. Here’s what he said.

How he feels he’s fitting in: “Everything’s been amazing so far — it really has. From the guys to the coaches to the training staff, everyone’s been truly amazing, and it’s been a great transition so far.”

What’s it been like getting to know Wilson and Wilson come to Miami for the funeral last week: “It’s been incredible — it really has. Clearly, I’ve watched him from afar as a player and seen his growth throughout the years, but to walk in the building and see his character and to really experience who he is as a man, has been awesome. Last week, what he did not only meant a lot to myself, but my extended family. To know that he and the entire Seahawks [organization] was behind myself and my family.”

Is this what you expected?: “This place has exceeded my expectations. By far. Number one, look at these facilities — I think they’re some of the nicest in football. But beyond that, how the team’s run — the players on the team hold each other accountable, and it doesn’t matter where we are. Whether it’s on the field, or if we’re out there in Maui, we compete to try to win.”

On how important it was getting out to Maui with his new teammates: “For me, it was very important. I’ve played against them a couple of time these last couple years, and I think we’ve had some chippier moments. That’s the game, and on Sundays, I take my job very seriously. I don’t play any games on Sundays. So, to go to Maui and show them who I am as a person, and show them that I’m all about team… I could care less about myself. Really, for them to just see that…. well, I can’t say that [laughs]…  for them to see that I’m a good guy was really important.”

On if he has concerns going from a high-volume passing game to a more balanced offense: “No, not at all. I know I’m probably not going to get targeted 130 times. But that’s not my concern; I just want to win games. And I know there will be times — big moments in a game where I’m going to have to go out there and make a play. That’s what I’m focusing on — making sure that when the ball comes my way, I’m ready to take hold of every opportunity, and to not let any of these opportunities pass me by.”

On if he was making a statement with all those spikes after TDs: “No, no, no… that’s just what I do. That’s what I’ve done, even in the games. Well, now it’s illegal to dunk, but we’ll see about that.”

On how he will improve as a blocker: “Personally, I’m excited to block. When you go in the game and you’re guarded by corners and safties for most of your career and you keep getting doubled, that’s never a good thing. I know that’s just going to help this offense out. It’ll help give looks to where guys can’t stack the box with 10 guys. So for me, it’s all positive. I can’t wait. That’s what I’ve been focusing on since I got here. The routes and the passing offense, that obviously comes natural. So for me, it about focusing on what they’re trying to do here, which is the running game. It’s thr staple of this offense and I’m proud the be a part of it.”

On how he would assess himself as a blocker: “I could show you. Listen man, I’m 270 pounds. I can block anybody I want to. It’s all about want to. We’ll see come this Sunday.”

On if he has a point to prove on blocking: “Not really. I’m gonna do what they tell me to do. If that’s go out and score, go out and catch or go out and hit somebody, I’m gonna do it.”

On if the run game here can free him up in the passing game: “That’s why I’m excited to be a part of it. No. 1, with maybe multiple tight end sets, that’s gonna just open it up. These last couple of years for me, playing against guys who aren’t concerned about the run at all. They know I will try to do a double move and run this go route. It makes it more difficult. So this will just make my job easier when it comes to the passing game.”

On similarities between Wilson and Drew Brees: “I do. I’ve spoken to Russ about Drew. But also they are very different. Russ’s ability to extend a play is unbelievable. Out there in New Orleans, everything was about timing so when you hit that step, that ball is coming. You know the ball is coming out. And now when you hit a step and look back, maybe he saw something and now he’s scrambling so there’s a second opportunity. This offense and this team is dangerous on those second opportunities. When he gets out of the pocket and he’s able to work and kind of play street ball, which I’ve always been pretty good at, the offense is extremely explosive.”

On opening up at the White House deal about his story, how important was sharing that?: “It’s who I am as a person. I think sometimes I don’t express that enough. I do a lot of charity stuff, and I try to reach out and share my story and help kids out however I can. But I think sometimes it’s lost on, a lot of people are all about going to another country and adopting a child or going to save a kid in another country. There’s so many kids in this country who unfortunately just get the raw end of the deal and really don’t have an opportunity to be great or to be what they could be.”

On the staged fight in Maui with Bruce Irvin: “That was a real fight, man. Nah, that’s just how this team is, honestly. They just have a good time. It honestly feels like I’m back in college. That’s how close each and every person is on this team. The way this team is and the way this team is run is how it should be for the NFL. It’s such a sense of family here and brotherhood. It’s been incredible. It really has.”

Have all the introductions gone smoothly? There were some guys who were critical of you when you were playing for another team: “Yeah, everything has been good so far. I haven’t heard any complaints. That’s just how it is. When you come from another team and when you talk as much as I do out there on the field, you’re going to have people who don’t like you until you get on their team. I’m just going to come out here and just show who I am and prove who I am and help them in anyway I can.”

On if his shoulder is healthy now: “Yeah, yeah. That’s in the past. That was 10 weeks of terror right there. I rehabbed it completely and everything’s been fine. I’ve great. Very healthy, which is always a good thing.”

On if he had surgery: “No. No. That was almost. But I was able to get by.”

On how his mindset changes in the red zone: “My mindset? Honestly, I’m just bigger than everybody, so it’s easy.”

On flying around Washington: “Yeah, the state of Washington is gorgeous. Really is. I got my sea-plane license in a Beaver (a DHC-2 de havilland Beaver Seaplane) from 1950-something, which is pretty neat. Been flying around the Olympics. I think this weekend I am going to go flying with Mr. Nordstrom up in the Vancouver Islands, so that’s going to be exciting.”

On if the Saints or Seahawks ever expressed reservations about his flying: “No. No, not really. I mean, I always tell them that No. 1, I love my life. I’m not going to do anything to put that in jeopardy. I love where my life is right now, and I’m not going to change or do anything stupid that I shouldn’t be doing. I mean, I’ve been trained by the best. I always make sure that I always keep up on all my certifications so I can be as safe as possible, in everything that I do. Most of the time when I’m flying I’m wearing a parachute anyways. So I’ll find my way to the ground some how.
On if that’s ever been a contract issue:“No, not at all.”

On how close he was to shutting it down last season because of the shoulder injury:  “You know, we … we discussed it a couple times. But that’s just who I am as a person. I’ve fought through a lot of injuries the last couple years. I just want to be on the field. I just want to play, for the guys. You know, coming off a new contract (in New Orleans) I wasn’t just going to be sitting on the sidelines not helping. Or — you know, we were struggling at times last year — be the guy that bows out. That’s just not who I am as a person, so I just kept fighting through it. Looking back, maybe some of those games it wasn’t too smart to be out there. But, you know, that’s behind me.”

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Jimmy Graham puts on a show at Tuesday's practice

RENTON, Wash. -- No one on the Seattle Seahawks' roster was asking "Who’s Jimmy" on Tuesday.

Tight end Jimmy Graham was the star of the day, making five touchdown catches in the red zone during the organized team activity practice.

It's just one 90-minute workout session with no pads or helmets, but Graham was the unstoppable force in the red zone the Seahawks are hoping he can be in 2015, and the reason they made the blockbuster trade in March to acquire him from the New Orleans Saints.

No one is more pleased to have him as a target than quarterback Russell Wilson.

“Jimmy looks great, as you saw today,’’ Wilson said. “He’s an unbelievable talent and it’s great to have him. He’s a great addition to what we already have. We’ve gone to two Super Bowls in three years and a lot of great players have made a lot of great plays. To add him is something special.”

Graham dominated the defense on the red-zone passes in 11-on-11 and seven-0n-seven drills, including two lob throws from Wilson in the corner of the end zone where Graham used his 6-foot-7 frame to grab the ball away from rookie defender Triston Wade, who is only 5-11.

After each of his five TDs, Graham spiked the ball hard in the end zone, which brought laughs from the offense and a few boos from the defense, but it was all in fun.
“That’s just what I do,” Graham said. “That’s what I’ve done in the game, even though it’s illegal now to dunk. We’ll see about that.”

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin, the man who had an on-field altercation with Graham before a playoff game two years ago and asked, "Who's Jimmy" wasn't there Tuesday, still sitting out the voluntary OTAs. But everyone knows who Jimmy Graham is now.

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Jimmy Graham: Right shoulder totally healthy now

The Seattle Seahawks' recently acquired tight end Jimmy Graham said Tuesday that the 2014 shoulder injury that haunted him last season is finally healthy, and that playing with the injury in 2014 amounted to "10 weeks of terror," according to The Seattle Times. 

Graham, who has taken on an increasingly popular role during a short time with Seattle, was acquired by the Seahawks in a Mar. 10 trade that sent center Max Unger to New Orleans.

Graham also noted Tuesday in his first address to local media members that the closeness among team members was similar to that of being in college, and that his time with the team thus far has exceeded his expectations.

"I'm 270 pounds. I can block anyone I want to...you want to go right now?" Graham even joked to The Tacoma News Tribune. 

Graham injured his shoulder early in the 2014 season and played through the injury for the rest of the year. He declined to have surgery on the shoulder at the end of last season. 

His production was limited in 2014 compared to former seasons. The tight end caught 85 passes for 889 yards in 2014, both of which were his lowest output since 2010. 

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Jimmy Graham back as Seahawks resume OTAs

The Seahawks went indoors on Monday for their fourth of 10 OTAs, a workout that was closed to the media. They will hold another on Tuesday, which will be open to the media.

Seahawks.com posted some pictures of the Monday workout, with the first one featuring tight end Jimmy Graham, a moment that marks something of a debut with it being his first appearance on the field for the team in an 11-on-11 setting.

Graham missed the three OTAs last week after the death of his personal manager and surrogate mother, Tamara Meyerson.

There are about a half-dozen other pictures of Graham, as well as a few of Russell Wilson, who made it back for Friday’s OTA.

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Russell Wilson attending funeral with Jimmy Graham

The news that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is absent from today’s Organized Team Activities was met by some with speculation that he’s unhappy with the status of contract talks. But that’s not the reason for Wilson’s absence.

Instead, a league source tells PFT that Wilson decided to travel to Miami to be with new teammate Jimmy Graham at the funeral of Graham’s longtime manager and mentor, Tamara Meyerson.

Meyerson, who died on Friday at the age of 45, became a mother figure for Graham, whose biological mother abandoned him when he was 11. Meyerson’s obituary names her three children and Graham as the most important people in her life.

“Tammy loved and mentored Jimmy Graham as a son. They were all always the number one priority in her life,” the obituary says.

Our condolences go out to Graham and to the Meyerson family.

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Pete Carroll says Jimmy Graham is 'determined to be great'

When the Seattle Seahawks acquired All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints for a first-round pick and center Max Unger, they knew they were getting a great talent. What they didn't know is how well Graham would acclimate to his teammates.

Head coach Pete Carroll was asked about Graham by reporters at the end of the Seahawks three-day rookie minicamp.

"Right from the first time I sat down with him in my office I was just blown away by what a great kid he is and how squared away he is," Carroll said. "We know he has great ability and athleticism, so we were really curious to see if he could assimilate, and he did it like instantly."

Carroll loves the attitude and team-first mentality Graham has brought with him to Seattle.

"He got along really well with the players," Carroll said. "The players really took to him and they didn’t know if he was a hotshot, or all full of himself. He was none of that. He was a great kid."

Carroll knows the knock on Graham is his blocking abilities, but doesn't seem too worried.

"He was very determined to be great," Carroll said. "Wants to learn everything. Wants to be a complete player."

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Pete Carroll, Seahawks Share Initial Impressions Of Tight End Jimmy Graham

Seattle's rookie minicamp wrapped up last weekend, and while the workouts gave the Seahawks coaching staff a good first-look at the team's 2015 draftees, it failed to offer the club an on-field glimpse of its "first-round pick" - Jimmy Graham.

The Seahawks acquired the three-time Pro Bowl tight end in a trade with the New Orleans Saints this past March. Seattle sent this year's first-round pick (No. 31 overall) and center Max Unger to the Saints in exchange for Graham and New Orleans' 2015 fourth-round pick.

At the conclusion of the three-day rookie workouts, head coach Pete Carroll was asked about his initial impressions of the 28-year-old veteran Graham, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound pass catcher who's averaged 89 grabs for 1,099 yards and 11.5 touchdowns the past four seasons.

"Right from the first time I sat down with him in my office I was just blown away by what a great kid he is and how squared away he is," Carroll said. "We know he has great ability and athleticism, so we were really curious to see if he could assimilate, and he did it like instantly."

Graham was one of several Seattle players who joined quarterback Russell Wilson for player-organized workouts in the Hawaiian Islands last month. Graham used it as an opportunity to start building rapport with Wilson, but more importantly, as a chance to get to know his new Seahawks teammates.

"I'm like that cousin they didn't know about," Graham said with a smile at the time. "I've just got to come in and just be me. I work hard and I'm a team guy. I've always been like that. I love to win no matter what.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to win and really to be a part of this, because they've got something special going on here."

From what Carroll's seen so far, Graham's team-first attitude is paying dividends at team headquarters.

"He got along really well with the players," Carroll said. "The players really took to him and they didn’t know if he was a hotshot, or all full of himself. He was none of that. He was a great kid."

The Saints threw the ball 659 times in 2014, the second-most attempts in the League (Indianapolis Colts, 661). Graham found himself on the receiving end of 85 of those passes - a team-high.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, tossed the ball a League-low 454 times this past year. They opted to run the ball more than any other club instead, riding the legs of 'Beast Mode' back Marshawn Lynch.

While Graham is expected to be one of the team's top receiving targets in Seattle, he will inevitably be asked to block more than he did in New Orleans given the Seahawks' run-first mentality. It's a change assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable thinks Graham will have no problem adjusting to.

"He is so athletic that once he learns how to, he’s going to be fine," Cable said of Graham in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle this week. "And he more than wants to. If you want to, and you have the ability athletically to do it, there’s no question you can do it.”

Cable's "want to" assessment of Graham was something Carroll picked up on during his first sit-down with the Seahawks' "first-round pick."

"He was very determined to be great," Carroll said. "Wants to learn everything. Wants to be a complete player."

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Tyrann Mathieu on Jimmy Graham: Our division’s physical, he has to block

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu isn’t worried about the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles this offseason.

Bowles and cornerback Antonio Cromartie are now with the Jets, but Mathieu said during an appearance on NFL Total Access that the team’s “core players” are still around on defense. That gives him confidence that the team will be able to remain strong on defense in 2015 as they try to replace the Seahawks as NFC West champions.

One difference in that task this season will be the presence of tight end Jimmy Graham in Seattle. When asked about facing the former Saint, Mathieu jumped on a maligned part of Graham’s game that’s been mentioned frequently since March’s trade sent him to Seattle.

“I think Seattle as a team, it’s tough to beat those guys. You still have to beat No. 3 [Russell Wilson] and No. 24 [Marshawn Lynch],” Mathieu said. “That’s a full task in itself. But I’m looking forward to Jimmy Graham, obviously. It’s kind of exciting that he came to our division. It’s physical. He’s gonna have to block.”

Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said this month that Graham is committed to learning what the Seahawks want him to do as a blocker and wide receiver Doug Baldwin pointed out that Graham’s presence alone can help in the running game, but there’s little doubt that Graham’s progression as a blocker in Seattle will be closely watched as the NFC West race unfolds later this year.

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Doug Baldwin: We can just plug Jimmy Graham into our offense

The Seahawks’ acquisition of tight end Jimmy Graham this offseason meant some players had to smooth feathers ruffled in past altercations from Graham’s days with the Saints, but it won’t require any major adjustments for the team’s offense.

That was the message from wide receiver Doug Baldwin this week during an appearance on 710 ESPN in Seattle. Baldwin said that installing Graham into their offense was going to be easy because of how many things Graham can do.

“The beautiful thing about Jimmy is that we can just plug him in and play him into our offense,” Baldwin said. “We don’t have to necessarily design things around for him because he’s such a talented player he can just fit into the role of tight end in our offense as it is. He can be an offense completely amongst himself. His ability to be a big target in the red zone, his athleticism is really strange for a guy his size,” Baldwin said. “The way he moves it’s unbelievable. He’s gonna be able to do a lot of things for us offensively.”

One thing Graham’s never been known for is his blocking prowess, but Baldwin thinks his presence will still be a boon for running back Marshawn Lynch. He believes Graham’s presence will spread out opposing defenses and that Lynch’s production is “going to be devastating,” which is pretty much the result the Seahawks wanted when they swung the deal for Graham.

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Jimmy Graham was sad when he thought he was traded to Oakland

Jimmy Graham is happy now, but when he first found out he was being traded away by the New Orleans Saints, his initial reaction was sadness. Not because he didn't want to play for the Seahawks -- a team that should allow Graham to compete in the postseason on a consistent basis in the years to come -- but because he thought he was actually being shipped to a different west coast team.

Graham recently revealed to a Seahawks fan that he thought he was going to be joining the Oakland Raiders for the 2015 season. And as Graham put it, that made him "very sad."

Can you blame him? While the Saints are currently in a not so great cap situation, they're not the Raiders -- a team that hasn't made the postseason since 2002. Even though the Raiders are certainly on the come up with a young core that could blossom in the years to come, Graham will turn 29 this season and could be past his peak when the Raiders are finally ready to contend for meaningful games in January. Seattle, on the other hand, is not only a team that was a yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl wins, but is also a team in need of a receiver of Graham's caliber. It's hard to imagine the Seahawks throwing a goal line slant to Ricardo Lockette with Graham on their roster.

Furthermore, it probably wouldn't have made much sense for the Raiders to part with an early draft pick like the Seahawks were able to. Oakland is still building for the future and needs to hit on draft picks to fill out its roster.

All of that equals a happily-ever-after ending for Graham.

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Russell Wilson: Jimmy Graham fits great with Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks fans aren’t the only ones excited about this offseason’s addition of superstar tight end Jimmy Graham — quarterback Russell Wilson is excited, too.

“He looks like a big kid, I’ll say that,” Wilson said Wednesday on Q/13-TV. “Jimmy Graham looks unbelievable out there. He’s really fast, catches the ball really well.”

Wilson just spent a week with Graham and numerous other Seahawks for a training and team-building session in Maui. The trip was well-publicized via social media, and appears to have been a healthy mix of conditioning and fun.

Graham, 28, joined the Seahawks in a March trade with the Saints. The deal sent center Max Unger and a 2015 first-round draft pick to New Orleans, and Seattle also received a fourth-round selection in return.

“Just to have (Graham) down in Maui I think was a great opportunity for him to really bond, and for us just to — as a team — to just really experience everything together,” Wilson said on Q/13. “And he fits in great. It’s going to be a great experience for him, but also for us as a team.

“I can’t wait for this season coming up. I know we’re all really pumped up. And each guy on the team is getting fired up and ready to go.”

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Jimmy Graham soft? 'I still feel the same way,' says Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett

Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett derided tight end Jimmy Graham as being "soft" after beating the New Orleans Saints in a divisional playoff game in the 2013 playoffs.

Now that Graham has been traded to the Seahawks and is a new teammate, they're ready to patch things up, right?

Uh, maybe not.

In a radio interview on 710 ESPN in Seattle, Bennett didn't back down from his comments and said that Graham "would have to block" now that he's with the Seahawks.

"I still feel the same way," Bennett said, according to the Seattle Times. "Just because he's on my team I don't stop feeling that way. Obviously I'm going to be a better teammate to him because he's on my team. I can't do the things I was doing to him when we were playing him."

"But obviously when he comes to our team he's a part of our team so we have a different philosophy than they had with the Saints. So the things he was expected to do with the Saints are going to be different when he comes here.

"Obviously we are a running team, so he is going to have to block and do all those things. I don't feel as harsh as I did at the time because he's my teammate now but at the time he was on the opposite team and we battled with him a couple of times and I didn't really like that too much."

Bennett's original comments from more than a year ago are considerably more forceful.

"Nobody likes Jimmy Graham. I think he's one of the softest players in the NFL," Bennett said at the time. "I think he's overrated and I really don't like him as a person or as a player. ... When he's not in the game he's not in the game. He doesn't help on the blocking plays. I think he's just overrated."

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Drew Brees reveals his true feelings about Jimmy Graham's trade away

New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks shocked the NFL at the start of last month when star tight end Jimmy Graham was traded from the Saints to the Seahawks.

The Saints were heavily criticized at the time for trading away their best offensive player, but in the last month the noise surrounding the deal has dissipated.

The main reason for this is because Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles have managed to engineer even more crazy deals, but this does not mean that key players at the Saints have accepted the decision to trade away Graham yet.

One of Graham’s best friends on and off the field in New Orleans was star quarterback Drew Brees, and for Brees, the shock of losing Graham still does not settle well with him.

"Jimmy was like a brother to me," Brees explained, according to ESPN. "He was close to so many guys on the team. That part of it is something that people lose track of.

"Not having a guy like that on the field with you is a difference-maker. Just the relationships that you build in the locker room, that's really the part that's the hardest, just because you're used to being around each other and the way your families do things together.

“You build a relationship and you become very close. But then, things happen and all of the sudden you're on a different team. It doesn't change the way we feel about each other. We're just not going to see each other all that often."

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Ndamukong Suh Deal Killed Jimmy Graham Trade to Miami Dolphins

The New Orleans Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, but the Miami Dolphins were also interested in trading for him.

How close were the Dolphins to acquiring Graham? Did the Ndamukong Suh deal kill the Graham trade?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe and Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole discuss Graham in the video above.

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Dolphins were runner-up for Jimmy Graham

The Jimmy Graham trade from the Saints to the Seahawks shook the NFL world on opening day of the new league year. Apparently, the Seahawks weren’t the only team the Saints talked to about Graham.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Dolphins “finished second” to Seattle as the runner-up in the Graham derby and were “aggressive” in trying to upgrade the tight end spot.

Being that the Saints were looking for line help, there’s a chance talks with the Dolphins revolved around contract-year center Mike Pouncey and Miami’s No. 14 overall pick in the upcoming draft. It would have been a steep price to pay, but both Graham and the Dolphins likely would have really enjoyed each other. Graham played football and basketball at the University of Miami, and new football czar Mike Tannenbaum was dead-set on overhauling Ryan Tannehill’s weaponry. Graham would have provided that needed intermediate and red-zone presence for Tannehill.

In the end, the Saints took the Seahawks’ deal of center Max Unger and the No. 31 overall pick in April’s draft. The Dolphins then replaced Charles Clay, whom Miami never really seemed too inclined to retain after slapping him with the transition tag, with former basketball-playing tight end Jordan Cameron on a two-year, $15 million contract.

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Jimmy Graham offers tickets to girl devastated over trade

When Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks at the start of free agency, just about everyone was stunned. It ignited what would be the craziest free agency frenzy in NFL history. One young Saints fan was more upset than most when she found out that her favorite player had been traded.

Seeing your favorite player leave is tough for many fans, especially younger ones.

Last week a video went viral of young 7-year-old Saints fan Lexia Woods who tearfully discussed the departure of the tight end.

“Wherever Jimmy Graham goes is where I go, no matter what team,” Woods tearfully states in the video, “He’s going to the Seahawks. It’s just not smart of them to let Jimmy Graham over there.”

She isn’t wrong. Trading Graham to the Seahawks gives the NFC Champions a legit scoring threat and another dangerous weapon to a team that is already dangerous enough.

Graham, hearing of the video, reached out to Woods and her family.

According to Andy Paras of The Post and Courier, Graham has invited the family to the first Seahawks game and Woods is doing a lot better now.

But don’t cry for Lexia, she’s doing much better now, her mom says, after receiving a flood of supportive messages from both Saints and Seahawks fans — and Graham himself, who sent them a message inviting Lexia to Seattle for the Seahawks’ opening game.

“She felt a lot better when Jimmy reached out to her,” Ashley-Ann Woods said. “He said watching the video made him smile. She said, ‘Mom, I made Jimmy smile.’ To her that was the most important thing.”

So while Graham leaving made Woods and many New Orleans Saints fans sad, he didn’t want to lose the young fan’s support.

While Graham will be scoring touchdown in blue and green and not black and gold, he still has a young fan’s support for life.

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Jimmy Graham eager for chemistry class with Russell Wilson to begin

For Russell Wilson, the comparisons to Drew Brees started before he ever entered the NFL because the opposite-ends-of-their-careers quarterbacks share a lack of prototypical height but also an uncanny ability to sense and elude pressure.

And Jimmy Graham has more than just a passing interest in this QB comparison because he has played with one – the 6-foot Brees, for the past five seasons with the New Orleans Saints; and is about to play with the other – the 5-11 Wilson, who was the first of Graham’s new teammates to call him Tuesday after the Seahawks acquired the three-time Pro Bowl tight end in a trade.

“They do have similar games, except Russell really will run with the ball,” Graham said Thursday during a conference-call interview. “Drew will really, really stay and sit in the pocket, no matter what. He rarely runs.”

Graham is well aware that he won’t be playing in New Orleans anymore, and that his role with the Seahawks will be altered because of it. During Graham’s five seasons with the Saints, Brees averaged 659 pass attempts. He threw more passes than QB in the league last season (659); ranked No. 2 in 2012 (670), 2011 (657) and 2010 (658); and was No. 3 in 2013 (650).

“In New Orleans, we’ve really been slinging the rock,” Graham said.

In Seattle? Wilson has thrown 393, 407 and 452 passes in his first three seasons since the Seahawks selected him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

“I’ve been watching some film, and it seems like a lot of teams play a lot of Cover 0 versus them,” Graham said of the alignment where the defense is in man-to-man coverage because a safety or two are being used in run support.

“That’s because of Marshawn Lynch, and because that read-option is so good. Marshawn, I mean you have to put guys in the box; you have to bring safeties down. So when you’re playing Cover 0, there are a lot of opportunities down the field, there are a lot of opportunities in that middle section where you’ll have guys in these one-on-one matchups. And I think eventually teams won’t be able to do that. You’re not going to be able to go Cover 0 just to stop the run. I think I can help open that up.”

Back to the running element of Wilson’s game that Graham mentioned. Wilson rushed for 849 yards last season, the fifth-highest total by a QB in league history. Brees has run for 690 yards in his 14-season career.

“I was watching a lot of film where Russell ends up kind of breaking out of the pocket. And really that’s when he’s scary,” Graham said. “That’s when coverages are broken down. And you’ve got to respect him as a runner because he’s so good at it.

“And he’s able to get these shots down the field and these huge game-changing plays. So I’m really looking forward to seeing that for the first time, because Drew really is a pocket passer. Wilson, he can be a pocket passer. But he’s so dynamic in what he can do and he’s so dangerous outside the pocket that it’s really going to be fun.”

And that fun will begin with Graham developing the same kind of chemistry with Wilson that he had with Brees. After a rookie season where Graham had 31 receptions, he more than tripled that in 2011 – when he put up career-best totals in receptions (99) and receiving yards (1,310).

“The way Drew and me really sped that up, especially early in my career, was having a full practice or an OTA and then after practice we would get even more reps in,” Graham said.

Sounds like Wilson’s kind of guy. He is, after all, the first player in and the last to leave during the season and “There’s no time to sleep” is one of his favorite catchphrases.

“As long as he wants to throw to me, I’ll keep catching,” Graham said. “I know we’re probably going to spend a lot of time after practice just working routes. What he likes. What he doesn’t like. And what he prefers, because Russell is a fantastic quarterback.

“I’ve been able to watch some film on him and clearly I’ve played against him quite a bit these last couple years. So I’m excited about working with him and about getting this chemistry together.”

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Jimmy Graham glad to be part of 'best team in football'

Like most of the football world, Jimmy Graham was shocked he was traded from the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, just a year after inking the richest contract ever for a tight end.

Speaking with reporters on a conference call Thursday the new Seahawk said when Saints coach Sean Payton called him to relay news of the trade he thought he'd end up on one of the teams with a lot of cap space -- Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars.

"But when he told me Seattle, it definitely put a grin on my face," Graham said, per the Seattle Times.

The 28-year-old has had some notable run-ins with the Seahawks -- both pre and in game -- in the past but is glad he's joining the back-to-back NFC champions.
"I've had some battles clearly against their defense the last couple of years," Graham said. "We've struggled against them as a team as a whole. It's probably the one game as a player you always look forward to because they're always so good, and it's usually a prime-time game.

"So for me it was a moment of shock, but once that shock cleared, I realized that I was going to the best team in football."

The best football team in the NFC just got better thanks to the Saints.

The Seahawks needed a game-changing red-zone threat and plucked one of the best in the NFL. Graham knows exactly what he'll bring to Russell Wilson's offense.

"You won't be able to go Cover Zero to stop the run, and I think I can help open (the running game) up," he said. "And then in the red zone, that's something I've always been good at. I'm 6-7, 260 pounds, and most of those are like a rebound for me."

Everyone in the NFC hates the Saints right now.

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Jimmy Graham will have a new uniform number with Seattle Seahawks

In addition to changing teams this week, former New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham will also change his uniform number. Graham said he might wear No. 88 with the Seattle Seahawks because the No. 80 he wore with the Saints is not available with the Seahawks.

Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent wore No. 80 for the Seahawks, and the number is one of three player-worn number retired by the team. Others are No. 71 for offensive tackle Walter Jones and No. 96 for defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.

Also retired his the No. 12 as a tribute to fans.

The Seahawks brought the No. 80 out of retirement in 2004 for Jerry Rice toward the end of his Hall of Fame career.

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proCane Free Agent Signing Roundup

A lot has happened in the last 48 hours in the NFL as far as Free Agent signings and our proCanes have been at the center of it all with several proCane stars joining new teams. See a recap of all the action below:

Former 49ers RB Frank Gore signed a 3-year $12 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Former Texans WR Andre Johnson signed a 3-year $21 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

TE Jimmy Graham was traded from the New Orleans Saints to Seattle Seahawks.

Former Giants S Antrel Rolle signed a 3-year $11.25 million contract with the Chicago Bears.

Former Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson signed a 1-year $1 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

OT Eric Winston re-signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Former Broncos OL Orlando Franklin signed a 5-year $36 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.

OT Jason Fox re-signed with the Miami Dolphins.

MLB Jon Beason re-signed with the NY Giants.

Notable proCane Free Agents still available: Chris Myers, Brandon Meriweather, Santana Moss, Colin McCarthy, Reggie Wayne, Vince Wilfork, DJ Williams, Darryl Sharpton.

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Once over shock of trade, Jimmy Graham likes being a Seahawk

Jimmy Graham definitely didn’t expect to be traded.

But as the shock of the deal that sent him from New Orleans to Seattle wears off, he’s kind of digging the idea of playing for a team that’s been in the last two Super Bowls, winning one.

Via our own Curtis Crabtree (also of KJR in Seattle), Graham said Saints coach Sean Payton first told him he was traded, but didn’t say where.

“When he told me Seattle, it definitely put a grin on my face,” Graham said. “I’ve had some battles clearly against their defense the last couple of years. We’ve struggled against them as a team as a whole. It’s probably the one game as a player you always look forward to because they’re always so good and it’s usually a prime-time game.

“So for me it was a moment of shock, but once that shock cleared, I realized that I was going to the best team in football.”

Of course, he’s also going to a team against which he had some notable run-ins, with Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett in particular.

“I’m excited, you know?” Graham said of the incident. “Whenever we’re all getting ready for a playoff game, you know how serious those games are and you try to motivate your guys. There’s a lot of emotion that goes into those games, and when I play, it’s all about winning and it’s all about doing whatever it takes to fire guys up and to get that emotion running. For me, that’s just a part of the game. We play a contact sport and it’s aggressive, and you have to be aggressive in everything you do.

“So for me, I’m excited to sit down with the guys—some of the guys have reached out to me, called me on the phone—but I’m excited to really get to know these guys and become one of their brothers and work towards winning a championship.”

They’re in a better position now with Graham lining up at tight end for them rather than against them, so the getting along may be easier than some would think.

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This video of a little girl reacting to the Jimmy Graham trade will bring you to tears

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Drew Brees tweets photo of son wearing Jimmy Graham jersey

Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he was “shocked” to learn that All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle. Based on this tweet from Brees, his young son is going to miss Graham being in New Orleans, too.

Ever since he was drafted by the Saints in 2010, Graham has been a favorite target for Brees in the Saints’ high-powered offense. Graham averaged close to 90 receptions per season over the last four years and has 59 career touchdown catches, so his presence will be sorely missed on offense.

Graham, who changed his Twitter bio to read simply “Traded,” thanked his fans and teammates in a tweet Wednesday morning.

In exchange for Graham, New Orleans received the No. 31 overall pick from Seattle, along with Pro Bowl center Max Unger.

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Drew Brees on Jimmy Graham trade: “I’m as shocked as everyone”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees wasn’t expecting to lose one of his favorite teammates today.

Reached shortly after the Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, Brees told Alex Flanagan that he couldn’t believe it.

“I’m as shocked as everyone else. I love the guy,” Brees said.

Brees is right, everyone was shocked by the news that Graham is gone. But the reality is, no one was untouchable on the Saints: They simply are in such bad cap shape that they have to start moving on from some of their most expensive players and building for the future, and trading Graham gets rid of his expensive contract while getting them a first-round draft pick. And Brees may turn out to be pleased that the Saints added center Max Unger in the trade, as center was a major need for the Saints.

So Brees is shocked, but maybe he shouldn’t be. Big moves were inevitable given the Saints’ cap situation.

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Pete Carroll doesn’t anticipate locker room issues with Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham scraped with Bruce Irvin in pregame warmups prior to the 2013 NFC playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.

Defensive end Michael Bennett blasted Graham after the game calling the then-Saints tight end “overrated” after being held to just four catches in two games against Seattle.

Graham will now be joining that locker room after being acquired in a trade with the Saints on Tuesday.

Despite the run-ins with Graham in 2013, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll doesn’t anticipate the incidents causing any problems now that Graham is joining the team.

“I don’t have any thoughts that there will be a problem,” Carroll said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “I think that’s gamesmanship and guys getting ready to play and all that and that’s all understood.”

Graham was warming up on Seattle’s side of the field prior to the Divisional Round matchup between New Orleans and Seattle in January 2014. Irvin approached Graham and told him to get back on his side of the field.

““He said, I’m Jimmy,” Irvin said at the time of Graham. “I said, who’s Jimmy?”

Irvin then swatted a football from Graham’s hands and punted it across the field as the players had to be separated.

Bennett then spoke his mind on Graham after Seattle’s 23-15 victory. Graham was held to just one catch for eight yards against the Seahawks.

“Because he’s overrated,” Bennett said. “If he doesn’t get a chance to get the ball, that’s all he can really do — he doesn’t help in the blocking game — so I think he’s overrated and I’m not scared to say that on TV.”

Carroll said the team has already spoken with Graham following the trade. Russell Wilson had already reached out about setting up dates to workout before the players are allowed to practice together at the team’s facility as well.

“I know a number of our players have already contacted him and talked to Jimmy and I’m sure that helps him if he ever had any thoughts (about that),” Carroll said.
“We’ve had good visits with him already as well. Yeah, I’m not worried about it a bit. It will be great to have him in here and get him with our guys. I’m sure they’ll get together well before we can start working here at the facility and expect that all of the groundwork for that relationship to begin will start all over again.”

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Jimmy Graham's earns $5 million roster bonus

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had his $2.9 million base salary and $5 million roster bonus for the 2015 season become guaranteed Wednesday, CBSSports.com's Joel Corry reports.

Including his signing and workout bonuses, Graham will count $11 million against the cap next season. He caught 85 passes for 889 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2014, marking his fourth straight season with at least 85 receptions.

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Jimmy Graham says current plan is no shoulder surgery

Before the Pro Bowl, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said his participation in the annual all-star game will help determine whether he needs surgery on the shoulder he injured early in the regular season.

After the Pro Bowl, Graham told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio that the current plan is to continue to rest and rehab the shoulder without surgery.

Graham said plenty more during his slot as the final guest in a week full of excellent conversations, from his aggressive approach to pick-up basketball to his love of flying to how the movie Top Gun sparked his passion for flying and provided the template for his first kiss.

The six-foot, seven-inch Graham also said he was first able to dunk a basketball when he was merely five feet, eight inches tall.

In all, Graham was loose, relaxed, funny — something that doesn’t come through very much while he’s bringing the same intensity to football that he does to basketball.

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Jimmy Graham's goalpost dunk in Pro Bowl

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham went into halftime of the Pro Bowl Sunday with just two receptions, one of which was a touchdown. However, he made sure to make the highlight reel with something he didn't do during the 2014 season -- dunk over the goalpost crossbar.

Graham, playing for Team Irvin, caught the 6-yard touchdown pass from Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter. After the dunk, Graham celebrated with his Saints teammate, Mark Ingram, in the endzone. 

With just about three minutes to go in the game, Graham caught his second TD, this time from Falcons QB Matt Ryan.

Team Irvin won the game, 32-28, and Graham finished the game with three grabs for 30 yards and two touchdowns and two dunks.

Graham said he wanted to catch a TD in the Pro Bowl because it's the game he can now dunk in "without a flag," but the NFL asked him not to hang on the crossbar.
Check out the first goalpost dunk below:

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Jimmy Graham wants NFL to change TD dunk rule

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said he hopes the league reverses the rule that prohibits dunking the football over the crossbar of the goal post.

The NFL banned the action last year and said those who dunked the ball would be penalized for the celebration. 

In a 2013 Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons, Graham bent the goalpost at the Georgia Dome after one of his scores, causing a brief delay as workers came in to straighten the bar.

Graham also dunked the ball twice in the preseason, drawing 15-yard penalties for unsportsmanlike contact for “using the ball as a prop” and receiving $30,000 worth of fines.

Graham scored twice during Sunday’s Pro Bowl and dunked after each score. He was not penalized for either celebration. 

“That was amazing. For me, it made the entire week,” Graham said, according to the Associated Press. “Hopefully, one day they’ll look back and change this rule so I can do it in a real game. And hopefully one day in the Super Bowl.”

Graham finished the game with three catches for 30 yards.

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Jimmy Graham says surgery 'still being debated'

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said he's still rehabbing his injured shoulder and has not made a final decision about whether he'll undergo surgery, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He showed no signs of discomfort at the first Pro Bowl practice, the paper said.

After the game, Graham said he'll return to Miami to train and relax.

"I'll be flying quite a bit, twirling in the air a little bit, and doing as much rehab as I can for the next four weeks," he told the paper. "This is a big week for me, just seeing where I'm at. I feel good, which is a positive, trying to stay away from getting surgery."

Surgery is "something we talked about and is something that's still being debated," Graham added. "This is kind of a trial to see where I'm at. I've had three weeks off and I've finally had some time to heal. It feels great, and I'm going to continue to do my rehab and get back to 100 percent."

Graham suffered the injury Week 5 and played through it all season.

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Jimmy Graham plans goal-post dunk after Pro Bowl TD

PHOENIX -- Jimmy Graham was barred from doing what he loves to do this season: dunk footballs over the goal post.

The New Orleans Saints' tight end was flagged twice after dunks in a preseason game and fined $30,000 by the NFL for violating what is now colloquially known as "The Jimmy Graham rule."

However, when asked by NFL Media on Thursday at Pro Bowl practice if he planned to bring back the dunk for Sunday's Pro Bowl, Graham was unequivocal.

"100 percent," he said with a sly smile. "Hopefully, they get me the ball. I'm for sure (going to dunk). Hopefully I won't get fined this time. Last time that fine was a little bit steep, especially for a preseason game."

The winning Pro Bowl team will earn $55,000 with the losing team taking home $28,000, per the collective bargaining agreement.

Graham said he doesn't know if the NFL will fine him if he dunks on Sunday, but that won't stop him from doing what he loves.

"I really don't care," he said. "I mean, it's the Pro Bowl, it's supposed to be fun. So hopefully they don't take my check away afterwards."

We agree 100 percent with Graham. It's the Pro Bowl. Let's have some fun.

In fact I'd go so far as to say everyone who scores should be required to attempt a dunk over the goal post.

Are you telling me you don't want to see how high Jamaal Charles can get after he burns the defense on a 74-yard touchdown run? I do. What if an O-lineman rumbles for a score? You don't want to see that dunk attempt?

Hopefully Team Irvin feeds Graham the ball near the end zone so we can all have a little more fun before the season ends.

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Saints need better health, bigger impact from Jimmy Graham

METAIRIE, La. -- Figuring out how to make tight end Jimmy Graham more dominant going forward has to be a top priority for Graham and the New Orleans Saints this offseason.

Graham’s ineffectiveness over the past five games was one of the Saints’ biggest letdowns -- though it was one of many.

He had just 20 catches for 219 yards and one touchdown over the final five games, including a career-high three dropped passes in a Week 14 loss to Carolina and a controversial goal-line fumble in a Week 16 loss to Atlanta.

Graham’s lingering shoulder issue was clearly one factor. But it couldn’t have been the only factor. Graham still had some big games after the injury, when he scored six touchdowns over a five-game stretch from Weeks 8-12. He still showed plenty of his usual physicality and aggression in games at Carolina and vs. San Francisco, in particular.

As Graham explained last week, it was something he had to fight through all year after first suffering the injury in Week 5. But neither Graham nor coach Sean Payton gave any indication that it affected him more down the stretch, when his production started to fizzle.

“There was no secret,” Payton said Monday when asked if he could reveal whether the injury was bothering Graham more than the team let on, now that the season is over.

“It gradually got a little better, but I honestly think that he was having to deal with that for quite a while,” Payton said. “Obviously it affected him, but to what degree it was causing him pain (in Week 17) or the week before, I wouldn’t know that. … I think he would be able to answer to what degree it was still potentially affecting him later in the year. It was significant for a good middle point of the season, though.”

The bigger detriment to Graham’s success might have been the way defenses approached him. Graham said he always has to deal with safeties shadowing him over the top or cheating his way. That's part of the reason why the Saints couldn’t get the ball downfield to the three-time Pro Bowler like they had in past years.

Perhaps it also hurt when they lost dynamic receiver Brandin Cooks to a thumb injury, allowing defenses to devote even more resources to bracketing Graham. But those downfield throws were a season-long issue for the entire passing offense.

Graham’s 85 catches and 10 touchdowns were in line with his career averages. But his yardage was way down, with a total of 889 yards on a career-low 10.5 yards per catch.

The Saints needed to get a lot more out of Graham than that -- especially since they don’t have a bona fide “No. 1 receiver” on the roster.

I wrote several times during Graham’s contract standoff this past offseason about how I believe he can be just as impactful as most No. 1 receivers in the NFL. I ranked Graham in the top 10 among all pass-catchers in the league, regardless of position, and believed his new four-year, $40 million deal was a bargain.

But that wasn’t the case consistently enough in 2014. And the Saints and Graham both need to figure out how to change that going forward.

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NFL head of officials: Tough to say if Jimmy Graham scored TD

Did Saints tight end Jimmy Graham score early in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Falcons?

It sure likes it in this still image below:

On Monday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino weighed in.

“This was very difficult,” Blandino said on NFL Network (via PFT). “We really struggled with this one because it's so close. ... Where is the ball in relation to the goal line? You really can't tell exactly where that ball is in relation to the goal line."

(Again, the still image above appears tells a different story.)

"The ruling on the field is it did not break the plane," Blandino continued. "Do you see indisputable evidence that it did break the plane? We even had a closeup look that the network gave us and it just wasn't clear cut, it wasn't obvious that the ball broke the plane, so the ruling on the field stood. ... Had they ruled touchdown, there was no evidence to overturn. Basically, the ruling on the field would have stood either way,”

The Saints are now out of the playoffs but it has nothing to do with a Graham touchdown that wasn't. And everything to do with all the losses leading up to Sunday.

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Saints needed more than they got from Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees wasn't good enough when it mattered most.

Neither was Jimmy Graham. And neither was the New Orleans Saints' offensive line.

The Saints' offense hasn't been their biggest problem throughout this entire wayward season. But it needed to be the solution, led by franchise players such as Brees and Graham. Instead, they came up small Sunday in the biggest game of the season to date -- a 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that eliminated them from playoff contention.

The Saints (6-9) had a total of 78 yards in the first half against a Falcons defense that came into the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed.

Then they rallied, only to turn the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, including a controversial fumble by Graham and a killer interception by Brees with 2:35 remaining and the Saints trailing by just six points.

"It's about as bad a feeling as you could ever have as a quarterback," Brees flatly admitted when asked about that pick, which followed a disturbing season-long trend.

Brees has been very good at times this season. He's still on pace for nearly 5,000 yards and a 69.6 completion percentage -- good for seventh in NFL history. But those game-killing turnovers have crept up time and again, usually when he's trying to force things in close games.

"Yeah, that's been frustrating and disappointing," said Brees, who now has 14 interceptions and three lost fumbles, including one on a sack on the final play Sunday that was returned 86 yards for an exclamation-point touchdown by the Falcons.

"We could very easily look back and say there were many, many games where we had chances in the end, and we were not able to capitalize," Brees said. "And I'd say in every season, the difference between you being a 12-4, 11-5 team and a team that's just middle of the pack, 8-8, is just so fine. It's that fine line, 'Did you win some of those close games or did you lose them?'

"Fortunately, in the past, I feel like we've won a lot of those games. Unfortunately, this year we have not."

The Saints' sluggish start was just as disturbing as the finish Sunday.

New Orleans was gifted a quick 7-0 lead when Jalen Saunders returned the opening kickoff 99 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram. But then the offense started sleepwalking for the better part of three quarters.

As coach Sean Payton pointed out afterward, that was especially disappointing, as the Saints' defense stepped up and played fairly well.

"We thought it was going to be a high-scoring matchup, but it ended up being different, and we weren't able to make enough plays on offense," Payton said.

Brees wound up sacked a stunning five times by a Falcons defense that had also ranked last in the NFL in sacks heading into Sunday. That was a season-high for both teams.

The Saints' run game went nowhere all day (15 carries for 45 yards by the running backs). Brees couldn't connect with Graham, whose performance was every bit as disappointing.

Graham, who did not appear in the locker room for interviews, caught just one pass for three yards through three quarters, despite being targeted five times. And his fumble -- even if it did occur after he crossed the goal line -- was still a fumble.

We are used to seeing Graham look like a man among boys and outmuscle defenders for tough catches (as he did on his too-little, too-late touchdown in the fourth quarter).

It's hard to say whether Graham's early-season shoulder injury is still bugging him, given he was still playing at a high level for a while after he got hurt. But the Saints need more from him than what they've gotten over the past month.

Brees, who turns 36 next month, was asked if getting older makes him wonder if he's running out of chances to win more Super Bowls.

"Well, I think that's stating the obvious. I'm not getting younger -- none of us are," Brees said. "But I'm not thinking about anything other than the opportunity that's right before you from season to season. I feel like all of the pieces are in place here to do that."

That statement seems a bit optimistic after the way this season just unfolded. But for the Saints to have any chance of that coming true, they'll need to rely most on Brees and Graham to be their two biggest game-changing weapons.

They'll need more than what they got Sunday.

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Jimmy Graham is No. 2 tight end in NFL Pro Bowl fan ballot

Fans have put New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in position to make his third NFL Pro Bowl.

Graham was behind only Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots among tight ends in the fan portion of the balloting that ended Monday.

Fans count for one-third of the total that determines Pro Bowl selections. NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on Friday. The team will be announced on Dec. 23.

Graham was the only Saints player in the top two at any position in the fan balloting, according to figures released by the NFL on Wednesday. Graham collected 413,366 votes to 601,093 for Gronkowski. 

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Jimmy Graham breaks two-game slump

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was once again a big part of the offense Monday night in Chicago. After catching three passes for 25 yards over his previous two games, Graham caught five passes for a team-high 87 yards in the easy win.

Graham tied for the team lead with seven targets. However, he was unable to come down with a contested end-zone fade late in the third quarter.

Graham looked spry, pulling in catches for 29 and 22 yards and trying to hurdle safety Brock Vereen in the fourth quarter. Graham will try to end his three-game scoreless streak Week 16 against the Falcons.

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Saints need Jimmy Graham to bounce back at Chicago

METAIRIE, La. -- After a career-high three dropped passes in last week's 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Jimmy Graham has his priorities in order heading into Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears.

When asked what's highest on his list of objectives this week, Graham said, "I like to catch the ball, that's pretty high. I'd like to run-block a little better. And really, probably the highest is just to get a win. I'm just tired of losing."

The Saints (5-8) need Graham to be a huge part of the solution Monday, especially considering the type of game that might play out in some cold, windy and possibly rainy conditions.

New Orleans' game plan could lean heavily on the run game and a short passing game that chews up both yardage and clock -- similar to the game plan that helped the Saints finally win a game at Chicago last year.

Although the weather conditions were much better on that October afternoon, the Saints methodically churned out a 26-18 victory while possessing the ball for 36 minutes and never turning the ball over. Graham had 10 catches for 135 yards.

"I want to play a big role in every game," Graham said when asked if this is the type of game that could require him to play such a role. "But as it unfolds we'll see, depending on weather. We'll be ready rain or cold, doesn't matter. We're gonna go into it and hopefully get a win."

Graham caught just three passes for 25 yards last week in the disaster against Carolina. It was a far cry from the week before when he had zero catches in a 35-32 win at Pittsburgh. In that game, Graham drew so much attention from double teams that it helped allow quarterback Drew Brees to throw touchdown passes to five different receivers, while Mark Ingram ran for 122 yards.

This past week, however, the Saints desperately needed a boost on offense, and Graham couldn't get loose against Carolina's defense. In addition to the three drops, he had three other balls broken up after they hit his hands.

"It was a rough game for all around and we've got to play better ball than that," said Graham, who said he didn't pay much attention to what was happening with the Saints' roster moves or lineup changes.

"I put my head down and come to work every day," Graham said. "It's never fun losing, that's for sure. And as long as I've been here, we've won a lot of games. So it's nothing that I'm gonna get used to. I'm gonna take whatever I need to do, or whatever we need to do collectively, to stop it."

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Jimmy Graham's shoulder injury hurting Saints' O

Jimmy Graham is coming off one of the worst performances of his career, dropping a career-high three passes and failing to reel in two more that were broken up as they hit his hands last week.

Although Graham hasn't been the same since his early October right shoulder sprain, coach Sean Payton is not allowing any excuses on the heels of the New Orleans Saints' embarrassing loss to the Carolina Panthers.

"We've got to be able to handle some balls that are thrown our way," Payton said this week, via ESPN.com. "And sometimes it's going to be tight, and sometimes it's going to be bumped. That's part of the deal."

Graham's inability to fight for contested balls and lunge for errant passes has been similar to that of Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who is playing through a torn triceps.

The Saints have been tight-lipped about the particulars of Graham's injury, but there are signs that it is more serious than originally reported.

Graham acknowledged a week ago that he's still managing the pain "every day" and that the shoulder "has really held me back sometimes."

During the broadcast of the Week 10 game versus the San Francisco 49ers, Fox Sports sideline reporter Pam Oliver revealed that Graham was getting a maximum of four hours of sleep per night due to the pain in his shoulder.

The All-Pro tight end is no stranger to lingering injuries. His consistency has taken a severe blow due to a 2012 season-long wrist injury, a 2013 torn plantar fascia and the current shoulder sprain.

In effect, Graham has been half as productive while battling through injuries.

At peak strength over the past two years, he has averaged eight receptions, 104 yards and a touchdown per game. Unable to beat double teams and fight through traffic at the catch point, that average has dropped to 4.5 catches, 52 yards and 0.8 touchdowns while playing in pain.

Much like Tom Brady's reliance on Rob Gronkowski, Drew Brees' fortunes rest on Graham's ability to dominate week-in and week-out. It's no coincidence that the Saints' offense has been hit or miss when Graham isn't in monstrous goal-post dunking form.

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Jimmy Graham’s three drops a career high

METAIRIE, La. -- Jimmy Graham had another quiet day in Sunday’s 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Only this time, the New Orleans Saints’ standout tight end had himself to blame as much as the defensive game plan.

Graham dropped a career-high three passes, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and had two other potential catches broken up as they hit his hands.

Graham finished with only three catches for 25 yards -- two of which came in “garbage time” in the final two minutes. He had another catch nullified by a penalty.

Graham was officially targeted 10 times, though two of them were throwaways by Drew Brees under pressure.

The Panthers played good, physical defense against Graham, with standout linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and safety Roman Harper each breaking up at least one pass. But they didn’t use many double teams on him.

And Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t let Graham off the hook.

“I think overall, he like the rest of the guys on offense, there were things that you look at the tape and you think ... we've got to be better at. We've got to be able to handle some balls that are thrown our way,” Payton said. “And sometimes it's going to be tight and sometimes it's going to be bumped. That's part of the deal.”

Graham hasn’t spoken to the media since Sunday’s game.

Drops haven’t been a season-long issue for Graham, who was credited for only two all season by ESPN Stats and Info before Sunday.

And Sunday’s game played out much differently than the game at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, when Graham wasn’t targeted once. In that game, the Steelers used a heavy dose of double coverage on Graham, and the Saints made them pay with touchdown passes to five different receivers, 162 receiving yards for Kenny Stills, and 122 rushing yards by Mark Ingram.

Overall this season, Graham’s production is a bit below expectations -- mostly because the Saints haven’t been able to get him or any of their receivers open deep down the field on a consistent basis.

Graham is on pace for 84 catches, 855 yards and 11 touchdowns. The catches and touchdowns are typical -- but the yardage is down significantly.

The shoulder injury that Graham suffered in Week 5 doesn’t appear to be an issue with his ability to catch the football or with his snap counts. Although Graham admitted this past Friday that the shoulder has “really held me back at times” as a blocker, he has still put up some big games since suffering the injury. He had 31 catches and six touchdowns during a five-game span from Weeks 8-12.

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Jimmy Graham: Shoulder injury has 'really held me back sometimes'

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said his shoulder injury has "really held me back sometimes" this season, according to The Advocate.

The two-time Pro Bowler injured his shoulder during the Saints’ Week 5 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He said he still manages the pain "every day" and that it has impacted his blocking. 

"At times this year the shoulder has really held me back sometimes," Graham said. "Other times I’m able to fight through the pain. I just got to man up and keep doing it."

Graham has 65 catches this season for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. As it stands, his 10.3 yards per reception average is the lowest of his five career seasons.

In 2013, Graham led all NFL tight ends with 16 touchdown catches. 

The Saints (5-7) host the Carolina Panthers (3-8-1) on Sunday. 

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Jimmy Graham held to three catches Sunday

A disastrous Sunday afternoon at home for the Saints certainly filtered down to struggling tight end Jimmy Graham.

Graham, who is dealing with a sore shoulder, was held to just one catch in the first three quarters and finished with three for a mere 25 yards despite having 11 passes thrown his way. It's the fifth game this season in which he has gained 36 yards or less through the air.

He will try to raise his level of play against the visiting Bears next Monday night.

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Zach Ertz says he doesn't think Jimmy Graham could play for Eagles

PHILADELPHIA — Eagles second-year tight end Zach Ertz has seen his playing time decrease this season, a result of being in an offense that requires tight ends to block more than catch the ball.

How committed are the Eagles to that philosophy? According to Ertz, even one of the best tight ends in the league, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, wouldn't see the field.

"Probably not, to be honest," Ertz said on if Graham would play for the Eagles. "I don't want to take anything away from Jimmy, but the things I've seen, he is more of a pass-catching tight end. In this offense we are a run-first team and we don't sub because we go at (a fast pace)."

The question was posed to Ertz after head coach Chip Kelly said on Wednesday that the reason the second-year player has seen less playing time is because of how effective Celek has been in the blocking game.

When asked about his coaches assessment that Celek is a better blocker, Ertz didn't disagree.

"Brent has been here for a long time," Ertz said. "He might be the best run-blocking tight end in the league."

What Ertz did disagree with was that he isn't capable of blocking, something he worked on throughout the offseason.

"I definitely don't think it is a negative part to my game anymore," Ertz said. "The perception that I can't block isn't true."

Celek's strengths as a run blocker puts Ertz in a tough spot, as he is stuck behind the veteran in what has become a one-tight-end offense. Ertz admitted that being on the bench has been tough for him, especially early on in the season.

"It was a big maturation process for me. Kind of a stubborn 23-year old to a mature 24-year old," Ertz said. "I was really hard on myself. If I had one negative play, it would impact the next one. In this league, that can kind of spiral. It effected me on-and-off the field. But I have learned you can't take things personally."

Ertz said he was able to turn the corner emotionally after a sit down with his tight end coaches, a meeting that took place a few weeks ago.

"The attitude maybe wasn't as up to par as it should have been," Ertz said of the reason for the meeting. "I can't control (my playing time). I can control my attitude and my playing time."

His attitude may have improved, but his playing time has not. Ertz was on the field for 28 snaps this pack Sunday in Green Bay, a little more than half of the 53 snaps he played in Week 1.

"We are 7-3," Ertz said. "I don't have a lot of merit (to complain)," Ertz said. "If Brent or James (Casey) gives us a better chance to win, then I am all for that.

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Marvin Lewis: Penalty for hit on Jimmy Graham was worth it

Bengals safety George Iloka got a personal foul penalty for a late hit on Saints tight end Jimmy Graham on Sunday. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis didn’t mind.

Lewis said that while he’d prefer not to lose 15 yards, he believed that hit set the tone for the physical way the Bengals’ defense played against Graham. And Lewis was very pleased with the way his defense played against Graham, who had only three catches for 29 yards.

“Unfortunately it cost us a penalty, but I think . . . it took a little bit out of him for the rest of the football game,” Lewis said, via Cincinnati.com. “He’s obviously someone we wanted to get hands on every chance we get. He’s such an effective receiver.”

Much like Lewis’s statement that the media make too much of concussions, Lewis’s statement that he sees a benefit to a hit that drew a personal foul penalty comes across as tone deaf in the image-conscious NFL, a league that is doing all it can to stress player safety. But Lewis is less interested in image than he is in coaching a tough, physical football team. And if that means sometimes his players cross the line and get a penalty, Lewis can live with that.

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Jimmy Graham swears off leaping into stands after getting 'groped up'

After hauling in a touchdown pass at home last week against the 49ers, all Jimmy Graham wanted to do was share the moment with the Saints fans.

After this harrowing experience, Graham swore off jumping into the stands according to the New Orleans Times Picayune.

“That’ll probably be my last one after I got groped up,” Graham said. “It was a moment in the game and I just wanted to go and thank all the fans for being there. Some people were trying to thank me a little too much.”

First no more dunking the ball through the goalposts and now this. We can’t ever have nice things.

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NFL and USAA name Jimmy Graham a nominee for the Salute to Service award

New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham has been nominated for the fourth annual Salute to Service Award, the NFL and USAA announced Wednesday.

Teams nominated players, coaches, personnel and alumni who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community. A list of the 2014 Salute to Service Award nominees is below.

Graham’s parents both served in the military for 15 years and his guardian Becky Vinson served in the United States Navy. He lived on Fort Bragg, North Carolina for seven years as a child.

Graham was one of three NFL players to travel on a weeklong tour throughout the Middle East to visit U.S. troops at military bases last March.

Graham, Miami Dolphins kicker Brandon Fields and Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon participated in the NFL’s USO offseason traveling program to visit service members.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Graham. “I developed many relationships on that trip that I still keep in touch with. It made me proud as an American to see it up close. To see everything they have done it makes you appreciate the little things you have so much more.”

Graham stayed in the troops quarters, ate meals, played sports and shared stories with the American heroes.

One night during his trip, Graham walked out of his living quarters to go to the bathroom in another building.  It was 3 a.m. and helicopters were flying over his head and troops were walking by in full gear ready for duty. He met a solider that just returned from a 10-hour shift ready for bed – the solider was 19 years old.

“Seeing that was something I won’t forget and don’t want to forget because of how much I appreciate what they do,” said Graham. “The moments I shared with the them, the stories that I heard and smiles that I saw from the troops is something that I will never forget.”

Graham and other Saints players participated in a Pro vs. G.I. Joe event at the team’s training facility last week. The Saints players visited with troops, signed autographs and played “Call of th Duty” with the group.

Finalists for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA will be announced in January, and the winner will be recognized at the “4th Annual NFL Honors” awards show in Arizona on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 31, the night before Super Bowl XLIX.

Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was last year’s award winner. USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, contributed $25,000 in his honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches.

Harbaugh will serve on the award panel and vote for this year's winner. Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was the 2012 winner, and the inaugural winner in 2011 was Tennessee Titans late owner K.S. “Bud” Adams, a World War II veteran.

Fans everywhere can join USAA in honoring military by visiting SaluteToService.com.

The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA’s year-long commitment to recognize and honor the military community. Culminating in November with the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign, for every point scored during the NFL’s 32 designated Salute to Service games, the league donates $100 to each of its three core, military non-profit partners – the Pat Tillman Foundation, USO and Wounded Warrior Project® – for a total of $300 per point.

To find out more about the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign or to read teams’ Salute to Service award nominations, visit www.nfl.com/salute.


Arizona Cardinals - Larry Fitzgerald Jr. (WR)
Atlanta Falcons - Joe Hawley (C)
Baltimore Ravens - Morgan Cox  (LS)
Buffalo Bills - Doug Marrone (Head Coach)
Carolina Panthers - Ron Rivera (Head Coach)
Chicago Bears - Jared Allen  (DE)
Cincinnati Bengals - John Sawyer (VP/Board Member)
Cleveland Browns - Alex Mack (C)
Dallas Cowboys - Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
Denver Broncos - Ben Garland (G)
Green Bay Packers - Tom Bakken (Assistant Equipment Manager)
Houston Texans - J.J. Watt (DE)
Indianapolis Colts - Pat McAfee (P)
Jacksonville Jaguars - Roy Miller (DT)
Kansas City Chiefs - Derrick Johnson (LB)
Miami Dolphins - Lousaka Polite (Former FB)
Minnesota Vikings - Jeff Locke (P)
New Orleans Saints - Jimmy Graham (TE)
New York Giants - Tom Coughlin (Head Coach)
New York Jets - Robert Wood Johnson IV (Owner)
Oakland Raiders - Oakland Raiders Foundation
Philadelphia Eagles - Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders
Pittsburgh Steelers - Troy Polamalu (S)
St. Louis Rams - Jeff Fisher (Head Coach)
San Diego Chargers - Nick Hardwick (C)
Seattle Seahawks - Dan Quinn (Defensive Coordinator)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Vincent Jackson (WR)
Washington Redskins - Darrel Young (FB)

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Despite PI penalty, Saints' Jimmy Graham keeps gaining steam

METAIRIE, La. -- Not to be lost in all the hubbub over Jimmy Graham's offensive pass interference penalty is that the New Orleans Saints tight end appears to be almost all the way back from his shoulder injury.

Though Graham still had the shoulder wrapped in ice following the Saints' 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he certainly showed no ill effects on the field, playing 59 snaps and catching 10 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns. (It would have been more if his 47-yard Hail Mary TD had counted).

Quarterback Drew Brees certainly has the ultimate trust in Graham, for better and for worse. He tried to fire a pass to Graham in triple coverage at the end of the first half, which led to an interception. But then he later hit Graham on a spectacular 11-yard TD pass on third-and-6 after spinning away from a sure sack on a heavy blitz.

“Brees got some serious pressure, and we've been able the last five years to really have this connection. And more times than not, when he gets in trouble he just finds me and throws it up,” Graham said. “I always tell him, throw it up, I'll be the only one that catches it.”

Graham now ranks among the top 10 pass-catchers in the NFL with 56 receptions and 7 touchdown catches. His 594 receiving yards are just outside the top 20.

Among his other standout traits, Graham has continued to flash his toughness while playing through the shoulder injury that never sidelined him for a full game. He did the same thing last year while playing through a significant foot injury.

Graham admitted last week that he knows his toughness has been questioned from people outside of the Saints organization -- like when Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett called him soft and overrated after their playoff meeting.

"I think last year the M.O. was the if you jam me or you bump me off the line I couldn't play well," Graham told The Times-Picayune's Larry Holder. "So that was a big emphasis for me to be more physical."

UPDATED: Graham admitted to Pro Football Talk on Monday after seeing the video of his pass interference penalty that there was "a slight push off" -- and "a lot of acting."

"You know it's a great job on his part, kind of knowing the situation," Graham said. "As I'm running down the field I'm telling myself don't push off and don't do this and don't do that and just go up and get it. ...I have my hands out just to feel where people are since I'm looking up at a ball. ...

"Apparently I'm a lot stronger than I think I am. He went flying."

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Payton dissects Jimmy Graham's improving game

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has long been a matchup nightmare for opponents, but head coach Sean Payton says Graham's game is continuing to evolve and improve.

Graham's release at the beginning of a play has been a point of emphasis lately, especially with the opposition game-planning specifically for him.

"Each week, it's a different way that someone is going to try and reroute him at the line of scrimmage," Payton said. "He's handling that well. He's doing a good job in the run game. I think that balance is important with him being on the field."

Refining techniques for the battle at the line of scrimmage is especially key going into Sunday's showdown with the San Francisco 49ers. When these two team met last season, the 49ers defense successfully got its hands on both Graham and former Saints running back Darren Sproles, effectively re-routing them.

"That was one of the things they were able to do," Payton said. "It is just what smart defenses try to do, disrupt the passing game. The success Jimmy has had, it comes with that attention. Now it becomes important for us to look at ways to formationally eliminate it."

Graham and the Saints have also drilled strategies for getting a better release when their offensive formation can't help him make a clean break.    

Graham has been tweaking the little things, and Payton says it makes a big difference on the field.

"In the framework of certain routes, you work on detail," Payton said. "He's done a good job with that. He's high pointing balls well."

Graham's height is a huge bonus in the receiving game especially, and his 6'7" frame does dictate how the Saints use him in specific plays.

"The catching radius he has is bigger, so there are some areas on third down, or particularly in the red zone, that you try to take advantage of that," Payton said. "That combination, with his ability to run, all of it factors into his position. Certainly there are certain schemes or plays that play more of a factor in it."

Graham has been nursing a shoulder injury for several weeks, but he did practice fully all this week and is probable for Sunday's game.

At 4-4, the Saints and 49ers each share the same record heading into Sunday's showdown inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

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PHOTO: 6'7" Saints TE Jimmy Graham Towers over 5'2" Jockey Jimmy Graham

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham presents a huge mismatch on the football field at 6'7'' and 265 pounds, towering over most normal people.

Not surprisingly, Graham also towers over the jockey who goes by the same name. The jockey comes in at just 5'2'', and the height difference is noticeable in the picture the two took together at practice on Thursday.

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Jimmy Graham Practices In Full Wednesday

Graham (shoulder) practiced fully Wednesday, the Saints' official site reports.

Graham may remain a mainstay on New Orleans' injury report for the rest of the season, but owners shouldn't fret about his presence considering his unhinged status Wednesday. His usage has ramped up each of the last three weeks, with 12 catches (on 13 targets) for 142 yards and two touchdowns spread across the past two. Consequently, he's assured of a starting spot in all lineups as long as he avoids further ailments.

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Jimmy Graham working his way back to full form

While most of his teammates were hurriedly dressing and headed to the team busy, Jimmy Graham was taking his time at his locker, as he often does after games.

Graham reached up with his left hand and massaged his right shoulder. It was one of a few times he seemed willing to acknowledge he was hurting, the other being a brief moment on the field when he reached for the shoulder then quickly caught himself because he didn't want the Carolina Panthers players to know he was aching.

This time, with the New Orleans Saints' 28-10 victory well over and with no Panthers players around, Graham finally gave the injury some attention and pressed hard on the joint, hoping to somehow ease the pain he was feeling.

Seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, plus a leap over a defender early in the game, sure helped him feel better. In fact, when he'd finished with the mini-massage, Graham stood up and told a Saints staffer with a smile he was starting to feel like his "old self" and that just a little more flexibility in the joint is "all I need."

One of the most devastating offensive weapons in the NFL is working his way back to full form. And with a commitment to the running game and a powerful runner in Mark Ingram serving as a ground threat, the Saints' having Graham on the mend is a dangerous thing for opposing defenses.

"I just need to play more emotional," Graham told reporters.

He absolutely did that on Thursday night. After his touchdown catch, he went back to the sideline and rammed his head into the bench in, uh, celebration?
"That's just me probably letting out a little frustration," he said. "We've been tested in so many ways this year and there have been a lot of people that have written us off. That was more of just getting out some frustration that's been on me for quite awhile now."

Frustration he hasn't been in top form because of the injury that threatened to sideline him for one or two games. He didn't miss any, though he'd been limited the past couple of weeks. Graham played a near-full role both on Sunday night and again on Thursday night - 62 and 68 percent of the team's snaps in those games respectively, to be exact.

Early on, the Panthers tested his will by playing physical defense against him. Linebacker Thomas Davis flattened Graham on a block after an interception. Graham remained motionless on the ground for several seconds before finally getting up, acting as if it didn't hurt and not retaliating.

Graham was peeved by the play. He noted the hit came before the pass was even deflected, and he's right. Davis wasn't even watching the play develop behind him. He lined up Graham and whacked him, even though he wasn't the intended receiver.

"That wasn't a block. That was a hit and it seemed like that was intentional," Graham said. "Early in the game they were trying to come after me. Even in my routes, I was just getting hit -- literally getting hit, so I've got to protect myself better. It definitely got me going and sparked a fire underneath me."

Ingram, who is also dealing with a shoulder issue and left Bank of America Stadium with an ice pack on the joint, called Graham a "warrior" for playing through his injury. Drew Brees said Graham's injury is "day by day," meaning it can have Graham feeling as if it's almost healed and then get worse out of nowhere.

Graham found the antidote for the injury on Thursday night, and it was emotion. The Panthers can blame themselves for bringing it out of him. Graham, meanwhile, is probably just glad he didn't hurt his upper body any further via his unconventional celebration. He laughed when told cameras caught what he believed was a private act and that a clip of the act was spreading on Twitter and elsewhere.

Graham should know by the way defenses pay attention to him there's little he does that goes unnoticed -- even to the point of reporters watching him bend down while struggling to put on deodorant because his right arm can't quite reach up to his left armpit just yet.

"I think early I wasn't playing emotional enough -- at least for me. I think I need to bring it that way on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and in practice," he said. "When I do that, I think it adds something not only to my game, but it helps spur our offense."

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Check Out Jimmy Graham's Hurdle From TNF

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Physical play inspired Jimmy Graham vs. Panthers

Drew Brees was picked off on the New Orleans Saints' first drive of a 28-10 declawing of the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. As the ball took flight, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis walloped tight end Jimmy Graham right under the chin.

“That block came before the ball was even tipped, you know?" said Graham, who didn't miss a snap after the hit, per the Charlotte Observer. "That wasn't a block, that was a hit and it seemed like that was intentional."

The physical play from the Panthers fired up the behemoth, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury.

"Early in the game they were trying to come after me," Graham said. "Even in my routes, I was just getting hit -- literally getting hit. So, I've got to protect myself better. It definitely got me going and sparked a fire underneath me."

The play certainly provoked Graham, who on the next drive decided to hurdle over safety Roman Harper on 19-yard gain. The tight end finished with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. His return from injury has helped re-open a somewhat listless Saints offense.

“I just need to play more emotional," Graham said. "I think early I wasn't playing emotional enough -- at least for me. ... And when I do that, I think it adds something not only to my game, but it helps spur our offense."

After scoring his late first-half touchdown Graham decided to display that emotion with a Gus Frerotte-esque celebration.

"That's just me probably letting out a little frustration," Graham said, explaining why he head-butted the bench after the score. "We've been tested in so many ways this year and there have been a lot of people that have written us off. That was more of, just getting out some frustration that's been on me for quite awhile now."

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Jimmy Graham insists he's ready for more work on short week

METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints' offensive roster will probably look much the same for Thursday night’s game at the Carolina Panthers as it did this past Sunday night.

Tight end Jimmy Graham continued to practice Tuesday on a limited basis with his shoulder injury, while running backs Pierre Thomas (shoulder/rib) and Khiry Robinson (forearm) remained sidelined.

Graham admitted that the short turnaround is “tough on an injury like” his. But he said he fully expects to keep playing through it after catching five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers two nights ago.

“You know, I’ve been playing. So I’ll do whatever I can to be as healthy as I can come Thursday,” Graham said. “I’m doing alright. I’ve been better. But nobody really cares about that. We’ll just keep going and do what I can to be as healthy as I can on Thursday.”

Graham acknowledged that “I guess I was more of a decoy than anything” in his first game back two weeks ago at Detroit, when he played 30 snaps but was only targeted twice, not catching a pass. Graham credited coach Sean Payton, though, for finding ways that he could continue to help the team as much as possible without missing any games since he first suffered the injury in Week 5.

“I told Drew [Brees] I want to be a part of something special. So Sunday, I felt like that was a special night for us, and I want to be a part of those things, I want to help us win,” Graham said. “So I know when I’m out there, even if I’m just running around with my head cut off, I know it helps Drew.”

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Jimmy Graham limited at Saints practice

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham wound up in the lineup against the Lions last week after several days of uncertainty because of his shoulder injury, but he only played a limited number of snaps and didn’t have a catch as the Saints blew a lead in the fourth quarter.

The Saints got back to practice on Wednesday to start their preparation for facing the Packers on Sunday Night Football and Graham remained a limited participant in the action for New Orleans. Barring a setback, his presence last week suggests he’d be in the lineup again this week in a game that the Saints could really use to give themselves boost in the struggle for playoff spots in the NFC. The question will be how effective Graham can be, but it’s not one that will be answered on the practice field.

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Packers wonder what Jimmy Graham's role will be

Green Bay — The toughest question the Green Bay Packers face this week as they prepare for the New Orleans Saints defense is whether tight end Jimmy Graham will be just a decoy again this week or his old self.

Graham suffered a shoulder injury against Tampa Bay in Week 5 and hasn't been close to himself since.

The Saints were lucky enough to have a bye the week after Graham bowed out in the second quarter against the Buccaneers, but when Graham returned Sunday against Detroit, he was a non-factor. It was apparent he was being used more as a decoy than anything.

He was targeted twice by quarterback Drew Brees but did not have a reception. On Wednesday, Graham was listed as a limited participant in practice.
"He looks better this week than he did last week," Brees said in a conference call. "The shoulder will continue to get better. I'm not worried or concerned in that regard. Jimmy is a tough guy.

"He's had to play through a lot in just his short career. He's battled multiple injuries over the course of many seasons. I know he's going to give us whatever he can. We'll see what that is."

Before he got hurt, Graham was off to another good start. Despite no catches last week and just two against Tampa Bay, he ranks third among all tight ends in the NFL with 34 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns.

Since 2011, no other tight end can match Graham's numbers. He has 304 receptions for 3,883 yards and 39 touchdowns. The reception total ranks fourth among all players in the NFL during that span.

If the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham, who played in 120 games for the University of Miami basketball team before giving football a try, is doing better, the Packers have themselves a matchup problem. They can try to match Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Micah Hyde against him, but all three would need help to match Graham's speed.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to be ready to defend the healthy Graham and then see which Graham materializes once the game starts.

"Jimmie Graham is a tough matchup, no doubt," coach Mike McCarthy said. "How you play him, that's really what the game is for. But he's a very talented individual just as far as the way he attacks the middle of the field.

"They use him down the boundary and on the corner routes, too. But he's definitely someone that you have to be smart with."

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Jimmy Graham shut out in Week 7 loss

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham played through a shoulder injury Week 7 at Detroit but did not record a catch. Graham was not targeted in the first half and drew two targets after halftime.

Early in the fourth quarter, Graham ran a deep sideline route but Drew Brees overthrew him. Graham's health will be a big topic of discussion as the Saints prepare to host the Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 8.

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Saints list Jimmy Graham as limited participant Thursday

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was listed as a limited participant in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 5. During his Thursday press conference, coach Sean Payton said he was "optimistic" about Graham's status heading into Week 7 against the Lions.

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Jimmy Graham expected to miss 2-3 weeks after bye

Jimmy Graham's time off will extend beyond the New Orleans Saints' bye week.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on GameDay First on Sunday that the tight end will miss a few weeks after the bye, "likely two or three," with a shoulder sprain, according to two sources informed of the situation.

The news comes after coach Sean Payton said Graham was "doing fine" this week and noted that the bye came at the perfect time.

With the Saints' offense lacking explosive plays through five games this season, missing Drew Brees' favorite target will not help lift the malaise in which New Orleans is currently stuck.

Graham has 34 receptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Brees might miss most the mismatches the tight end creates in the red zone after Graham had 16 touchdowns last season on a bum foot.

The Saints signed tight end Tom Crabtree this week as insurance in case Graham missed time. Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill will also fill in on tight end snaps, but expect Payton to supplement Graham's absence by going to more multiple receiver sets.

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Bucs face big challenge in Jimmy Graham

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the traits I admire most about Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is his honesty.

Even if something isn't positive, McCoy's not afraid to say it.

"One of our Achilles heels right now is covering the tight end," McCoy said Thursday. "We have to be better at that."

McCoy simply was stating the obvious. The Bucs are coming off a game in which Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller caught 10 passes. Now, the Bucs have to face New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, who just might be the best tight end in the business -- if you even consider him a tight end.

"There are going to be times when we look at (Graham) as a receiver because they do move him around a lot," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "It's not often that he's a point-of-attack blocker. You see that on tape. He's an outstanding tight end with great pass-receiving skills. You've got to respect that and the way they move him around you have to recognize that he's not always at the tight end position. There are times we're going to treat him as a receiver."

The Bucs likely will use a combination of linebackers and defensive backs to try to slow Graham and quarterback Drew Brees. But there is one other way to prevent Graham from getting the ball.

"The (pass) rush can help that," McCoy said. "Somebody has to win early and we can make the quarterback make a bad throw. Or if the tight end is open, somebody is getting his hands up and getting the quarterback off his spot and making him make a bad throw. And, then, on the back end, guys being in the right spot covering the tight end. What better week to do it than this week. No. 9 and No. 80 over the past five years, that's been a huge combo."

McCoy said the key is to put pressure on Brees.

"Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but obviously different defenses get to him and rattle him and make him have a bad day," McCoy said. "You have to do that. It's going to start with us in the middle. He's a shorter guy, so we have to get in his face. We have different packages where we'll have taller guys in the middle and try to get our hands up and pressure him.

"Really, the big thing is to get him off his spot and it's a rush and coverage combo after that. But we definitely have to get him off his spot. He likes to throw from a certain spot. He has a certain step-up spot he likes. We have to get him off of that and get him uncomfortable."

Frazier was quick to point out the Saints have plenty of other offensive weapons besides Graham.

"You have to make a decision on what you've got to take away," Frazier said. "We have a plan for this week and hopefully we can execute it."

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Jimmy Graham comes alive late

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who had only an 8-yard catch at halftime, came alive late in the Week 4 loss at Dallas. With the Cowboys playing a prevent defense, Graham hauled in seven second-half passes to finish with eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Graham's 13-yard score with 9:49 left in the game was his third touchdown this season. He drew a game-high 11 targets but also lost a fumble.

Graham plays the Buccaneers in Week 5.

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Jimmy Graham's Ridiculous Stiff Arm on Robert Blanton


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Jimmy Graham tops list of best red-zone threats

Every week, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position. So, we covered running backs and safeties. This week, we turn our attention to the league's best red-zone threats.
On to the rankings:

1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints: For all of the serious football fans lamenting the fact that LeBron James chose the hardwood instead, the NFL presents Graham as the freak athlete posting up defensive backs like a power forward in the end zone. Flip on Game Rewind for last week's game at Cleveland, and you will see Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden clinging to Graham's legs like a toddler. This is your ultimate mismatch.

2. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Megatron is the only active player with four seasons of at least a dozen touchdowns. He would have even more if not for bad luck and a nonsensical going-to-the-ground rule named after himself.

3. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: No player pulls in a greater percentage of red-zone targets. Bryant succeeds in tight spaces with a my-ball mentality, physicality, impressive catch radius and extraordinary strong hands.

4. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: Gronk has rewritten the early-career expectations for tight ends as Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson did for quarterbacks and running backs in the 1980s. He broke the mold. A fully healthy Gronkowski is the most lethal red-zone weapon in the game. Outside of a four-game window from Weeks 7-11 last season, we haven't seen that version since he led all 2010-2012 players in red-zone touchdowns (29), quarterback-to-receiver completion percentage (72.2) and yards after contact per reception (2.54).

5. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Davis leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (53) since the start of the 2009 season. That's not even counting the playoffs, where he has averaged 75 yards and a touchdown per game. With 4.38 speed, a 42-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-8 broad jump, Davis has the most impressive measurables of any tight end in history.

6. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: There once was a time when Marshall was among the least effective red-zone threats, dropping a half-dozen end-zone passes in one year alone with the Dolphins. Over the past three years, though, no player has more touchdown receptions. Marshall showed off his repertoire in an upset win over the 49ers, reeling in a leaping one-handed catch, boxing out a defender and coming down with a fade pass.

7. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Five years ago, Fitzgerald would have been the unanimous No. 1 choice. Post-Kurt Warner quarterbacks artificially deflated his numbers. Now Carson Palmer is reluctant to target the team's best receiver in tight spaces where Fitzgerald does his best work. He might be catching passes from a different quarterback in 2015.

8. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: Hall of Famer Cris Carter was the model boundary receiver. Nelson is today's version, specializing in back-shoulder catches while keeping his balance on the sideline or the back of the end zone. Aaron Rodgers' passer rating on throws intended for Nelson has been 150.2, 130.3 and 111.6 over the past three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

9. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: Like fellow former college hoopsters Graham and Tony Gonzalez, Cameron is a hyper-athletic mismatch who specializes in acrobatic catches in traffic. Contested passes are his bread-and-butter. With better quarterback play, Cameron would be a household name pulling in double-digit touchdowns.

10. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Thomas has 16 touchdowns in 16 career starts. That's a scary proposition for safeties and linebackers considering the former Portland State basketball player is just now starting to feel comfortable on the gridiron.

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Jimmy Graham expresses love for Brees

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham expressed his "love" for quarterback Drew Brees on Friday when asked about a recent ESPN The Magazine story that described some tension in their relationship this summer.

When asked if that was real, Graham said, "Nah. No, Drew's my guy. I love Drew."

According to the story, a source close to Graham said he was extremely annoyed by a comment Brees made to USA Today during his contract negotiations, suggesting the team would be ready to go with or without Graham.

There have been no outward signs of any tension with Brees and Graham since -- and their on-field rapport seems fine after Graham caught eight passes for 82 yards in Week 1.

Earlier this summer, however, Graham was open about how tough it was for him to deal with the emotions of being isolated from his team during the contract negotiations -- which included an arbitration hearing in which coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis testified against Graham's claim to be considered a wide receiver.

And Graham reiterated that when he was specifically asked at the start of training camp about Brees' comments.

"Yeah it's tough [to deal with the emotions of all those things]," Graham said at the time. "I didn't get into football to learn litigation. That's just the truth. Just being in an uncomfortable position and really not wanting to deal with it. I just wanted to move on and play. That's all I do, that's all I want to do, and I'm just glad all of that is over with."

Graham hit on a number of interesting topics during his weekly visit with the media Friday, including his blocking ability and the way young tight ends are following his lead in more ways than one.

When asked about how Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron changed his Twitter handle from "Pro Bowl tight end" to "Pro Bowl pass catcher" in the wake of Graham's arbitration hearing over his franchise tag, Graham smiled and said, "Smart. Smart."

The two Pro Bowlers obviously have a lot in common, from their basketball backgrounds to their roles as a dynamic new breed of offensive weapon. Graham said they've met before, though Sunday's game will be their first regular-season faceoff.

"I feel like we all kind of watch each other, and we all try to pick things up. But he's got a lot of speed, he's a big guy, and if they throw it up, he's gonna go and get it. He's a great player, so I'm excited to see him," said Graham, who was asked how it feels to be a role model of sorts for young tight ends.

"You know, it's a little different. I think more than tight ends, offenses have really come around. And they look to make tight ends a pivotal role in the offense after what me and Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] have done," Graham said. "And I think that trend's just gonna keep going. As I've seen the last two weeks out there in Denver, he's feeding that kid [Peyton Manning to Julius Thomas]. And Baltimore with two tight ends.

"Everyone's looking to really get the tight end the ball because there's a lot of matchup issues down the field in the middle."

When asked if Cameron was also "a hacker" like him on the basketball court, Graham said, "He's a finesse guy. I'm more of the hacking type."

Speaking of Graham's physical side, his blocking ability seems to have been criticized more than ever over the past year by some analysts and by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who called him "overrated" after their teams' playoff matchup.

But Graham had a strong performance as a blocker in the run game during the Saints' 37-34 overtime loss at Atlanta in Week 1. And though he laughed when the subject came up, Graham said it's something he's always been serious about.

"You know, I would say every offseason, normally I try to work on something. And for the last two seasons with all of the injuries I've had, it's really kind of hindered the blocking. So I was in there mainly on third down and two-minute situations," said Graham, who has dealt with foot, wrist and elbow injuries over the past two seasons. "But this year, being healthy, I'm able to be more aggressive in the run game. So hopefully I can just stay healthy and help us win."

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Where does TE Jimmy Graham rank among the top fantasy wide receivers?

Cullen: My forecast might put Graham as high as number two, behind only Calvin Johnson, but I'd be more inclined to throw Graham around fifth, behind Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green, high-end wide receivers that might have a higher ceiling, in terms of yardage, than a tight end, even one as great as Graham. Where Graham really made hay last season was when it came to scoring touchdowns, finishing with 16 to lead the league, and while it's possible that could happen again, it's tough to go chasing scores as the fundamental basis for a player's fantasy production. So, Graham should be good for 1,200-plus yards and possibly double-digit touchdowns, which is pretty much in his own class at tight end, but closer to the top handful at wide receiver.

Fisher: I would take Graham ahead of all the top receivers. With Rob Gronkowski still battling back from injury, there are so few tight ends you can rely on for big games every week. That's what makes Graham so valuable, there are barely 10 tight ends that can muster up a 100 point season in fantasy, as where there are at least 20 receivers you know are good for 100 points or more – some even on the waiver wire – to fill your two starter spots.

Hetherington: I believe Graham's name fits amongst the top-two fantasy wide receivers, second only to Calvin Johnson. I see Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green as the top four wide receivers this season and I'd pencil Graham in directly behind Megatron. Graham's speed and size lend themselves to redzone catches – he caught a league-high 16 touchdowns last year - and he remains Drew Brees' top target in a pass-first offence. Graham is the undisputed top tight end in fantasy this season and second overall when it comes to pass catchers on my board.

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Jimmy Graham Sportscenter Commercial

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Jimmy Graham's story of his difficult childhood

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Falcons hope Graham just a nightmare

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The tone of Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore's voice lowered a notch as he recalled last year's second meeting with rival New Orleans, a game won 17-13 by the Saints.

During that contest, Moore found himself matched with Saints game-changing tight end Jimmy Graham near the sideline. Graham ran his route outside then quickly broke back inside to get down the field for a 44-yard touchdown reception from Drew Brees.

"When you become too physical on a play that they run all game, they wait for that right moment for you to be physical again and they give you the double move,'' Moore said Monday. "It's called game-planning.

"For me individually, I had nightmares about that play. I wish I could take it back. But, you know, as a player, if you want to become elite, you've got to be able to have a short-term memory. I learned from that play and I got better off that play.''

Collectively, the Falcons have to find a way to be better at defending arguably the best tight end in the game as the Saints come to town Sunday. Graham had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in last year's game at the Georgia Dome. In New Orleans' two wins against Atlanta last season, Graham had nine catches for 145 yards and two scores. He has 500 career receiving yards and seven touchdowns against the Falcons through four NFL seasons.

The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham, a former basketball player in college, presents matchup nightmares because of his size, speed and leaping ability.

"It comes down to executing your play and the stuff you've got going on,'' Moore said of containing Graham. "You can't too much worry about Jimmy Graham. He's explosive. He does things other tight ends don't do. But at the same time, you worry about what you've got to do. Your technique should allow you to put you over an edge over what he's got going, if you execute.''

It will be interesting to see what type of coverages defensive coordinator Mike Nolan utilizes against Graham, particularly with having to contend with talented receivers such as Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks. No one on the Falcons roster is truly capable of matching up with Graham, one on one, although promising rookie linebacker Prince Shembo could be an intriguing option for that role in time.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant didn't shy away from going head to head with Graham.

"Just how they line up, I'm definitely going to encounter him,'' Trufant said. "I'm going to just be physical, just like any other matchup. I'm going to believe in what I'm doing and have confidence to go compete.

"I don't put nobody on a serious pedestal like that. Everybody breathes the same air. We all compete. He's a great player. We just have to bring it to him, pretty much.''

One aspect all the Falcons defenders have to be conscious of when it comes to defending Graham is the league's emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

"You can't think about it too much because then it will slow you down and you'll end up giving up a big play,'' Trufant said. "Obviously, you're aware of it. But we'll see. ... We play the game. We can't focus on how they're calling it too much.''

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Check out Jimmy Graham pitching Degree deodorant ad

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is now a pitchman for Degree men's deodorant.

Graham tweeted out a link to a 30-second commercial that was posted to Youtube on Monday. Graham is also featured prominently in visual advertising on Degree Men social media profiles.

In the ad, Graham says, "Everything can be improved. Every block can be stronger, every catch harder to defend. We all do things we love, and when we improve the way we do them, it feels amazing."

Degree, in case you missed the connection, is improving its deodorant. The narrator takes a swipe at Old Spice just as Graham is dabbing his underarms with Degree.

Graham is part of the brand's "DO:MORE" campaign, and he was featured for his "relentless drive to always improve and do more."

Graham signed a four-year contract with the Saints last month that included a $12.5 million signing bonus. His hobby of flying was featured on the cover of Men's Journal.

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Jimmy Graham fined $30,000 for crossbar dunks

The so-called "Jimmy Graham Rule" already has taken money out of the pocket of one player: Jimmy Graham.

The NFL has fined Graham, the New Orleans Saints all-pro tight end, $30,000 for twice dunking the ball over the crossbar after touchdowns in last week's exhibition against the Tennessee Titans.

The dunk has been Graham signature touchdown move, but the NFL outlawed it in the offseason, citing the possibility of further delays after Graham knocked the goalposts and crossbar out of alignment by hanging on it after one of his dunks last season in Atlanta. That game was delayed for nearly a half hour.

Graham also was assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after each infraction last week. Saints coach Sean Payton wasn't happy, and Graham acknowledged this week he has to stop.

The fine won't make much of a dent for Graham, who got a $12 million signing bonus on the four-year, $40 million contract he signed in July.

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Jimmy Graham: I have to stop dunking on goal posts

Jimmy Graham decided to protest the NFL’s decision to ban dunking on the goal posts on Thursday night, and the result was two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after he found the end zone twice. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton chewed Graham out after the second penalty and told reporters after the game that he was upset with his tight end. Graham now sounds ready to give up his favorite celebration.

“For four years and however many touchdowns I always dunked it,” Graham said Sunday, per Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune. “I just got to stop doing that now.”

Graham, who literally bent the goal posts during a game against the Atlanta Falcons last season, is probably the reason the dunking celebration has been outlawed. While he said he wouldn’t take back Thursday’s dunks, he insisted he would never intentionally cost his team 15 yards during the regular season.

“I haven’t (been fined),” Graham said. “That’s just the rule, which is unfortunate because I just love the game. I have a lot of passion for the game. I go out there on Sunday and it’s fun for me. It’s just fun. Act like a little kid out there, and sometimes I act like it.”

Not surprisingly, it sounds like Payton has forgiven his franchise cornerstone.

“I’m his biggest fan,” Payton said. “I’m sure as we get going here that type of thing isn’t going to be a problem. Rules are changing constantly whether we like them or voted for them or any of those things. He’s outstanding. He’ll be ready to go.”

If the NFL is worried about Graham or anyone else bending the goal posts, they should reinforce them. The No Fun League needs more personality. Tell me Chad Johnson or Ochocinco or whatever you want to call him wasn’t entertaining when he was relevant. Let the entertainers entertain.

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Raphael Akpejiori trying to be the next Jimmy Graham

Former Miami basketball player Raphael Akpejiori is attempting to follow in the big footsteps of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and play football for the Hurricanes.

Akpejiori (6-foot-9, 241 pounds) played four seasons of basketball at UM as a reserve -- he scored just 97 points and had 128 rebounds in his career -- and now is trying his hand at football as a tight end. Akpejiori, a native of Nigeria, never has played football before (well, never played American football, anyway).

Like Akpejiori, Graham (6-7, 265) played four seasons of basketball at Miami before trying his hand at football. He played one season for UM, in 2009, when he had 17 receptions for 213 yards and five touchdowns. The Saints took him in the third round of the 2010 draft, and he is the best tight end in the NFL now.
Akpejiori (whose last name is pronounced AHK-peh-jour-ee) has practiced with Graham and with former UM star wide receiver Santana Moss, and also participated in 7-on-7 workouts with current Hurricanes players during the spring and summer.

"At first I was getting jammed a lot," he told reporters Tuesday. "I didn't know how to get a release. But I've been doing pretty well so far. I've been finding myself open a lot. I dropped a few balls, but I think I caught more than I dropped. It's been great."

Akpejiori certainly doesn't lack for confidence.

"I won an ACC championship as a basketball player (in the 2012-13 season), and my goal is to win one as a football player," he told the Palm Beach Post. "One day in the future, they can tell my story as a two-sport athlete at the University of Miami who succeeded at everything he did."

Interestingly, Akpejiori is the second player whose basketball career at UM ended in March to try his hand at football. Erik Swoope (6-5, 220) didn't have any college eligibility left and signed as an undrafted free-agent tight end with the Indianapolis Colts. Colts coach Chuck Pagano praised him Saturday: "For a guy who never played the game, he's picked it up extremely fast. You see the talent level out there on the football field -- the athleticism, the catch radius, the hands."

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Jimmy Graham 'flying' at Saints camp

The New Orleans Saints dominated the conversation when our podcast crew asked on Wednesday which NFL offense would finish the year as the league's most prolific.

Drew Brees fronts an outfit that boasts a deep backfield, younger wideouts and a dazzling newcomer in rookie receiver Brandin Cooks. The Saints' attack, though, still channels back through Jimmy Graham, a tight end being paid much more than his peers because he's one of the NFL's more unique players at any position.

Graham has accounted for an outrageous 270 catches, 3,507 yards and 36 touchdowns over the past three seasons, doing a chunk of that damage while saddled with a plantar fascia injury. Now fully healthy, the playmaking pass-catcher is turning heads at Saints camp.

"The dude's flying. He's faster than last year, he seems stronger," safety Kenny Vaccaro recently told ESPN.com's Mike Triplett.

The praise came after Graham whipped down the field past Vaccaro, whom coordinator Rob Ryan called "the best overall safety" in the game last season.
Like Vaccaro on Ryan's defense, Graham can be utilized all over the field on offense, using his speed and tackle-breaking ability to dominate matchups. Only Julius Thomas had more yards after the catch (472) than Graham's 433 last autumn, but it took Thomas 247 more snaps to do so, per Pro Football Focus.

With Graham fully operational and Cooks stepping into a version of the Darren Sproles role on offense, the Saints loom as a megaton-level headache for the rest of the NFC.

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Patriots liked Jimmy Graham before his switch to football

In the spring of 2009, the Patriots hadn't yet found the tight ends they were looking for to revamp their offense. But they were looking -- even in the unlikeliest of places. 

In the August 4th issue of Sports Illustrated, Andrew Lawrence reports that the Patriots placed a phone call to University of Miami basketball coach Frank Haith to discuss the Canes' best post defender, a four-year letter-winner on the hoops team named Jimmy Graham. 

Graham hadn't seen a football field since the ninth grade, but New England was interested in working him out as a tight end. The transition from hardwood-to-gridiron had worked for players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the past, and the Patriots wanted to have a go at Graham.

The only difference? Gonzalez was an All-American in college at Cal, and Gates was recruited by Nick Saban to play at Michigan State after he was named an all-stater in high school. Graham hadn't strapped on pads in almost eight years when the Patriots came calling. 

Still, a workout was set up and Graham -- knowing scant football terminology -- caught passes from freshman quarterback Jacory Harris. The Patriots saw enough in the athletic 6-foot-8 power forward to offer him $5,000 on the spot if he signed. 

After consulting with Miami football coach Randy Shannon and former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar, Graham opted to pursue a secondary degree and join the school's football team. He had slipped through the Patriots grasp for the moment, but New England would have the opportunity to draft him the following year.

The rest, as they say, is history. Graham made just 17 catches in his one college football season, yet he was drafted by the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints in the third round with the No. 95 overall pick.

The Patriots had plenty of chances to make good on their initial interest and scoop him up before New Orleans, however. They selected Devin McCourty with the No. 27 overall pick in the first round and followed that up by spending their first of three second-round picks on another tight end -- a dual blocking and receiving threat with a history of back issues -- Rob Gronkowski at No. 42. 

After that, the Patriots still had three more picks with which they could have chose Graham if they wanted. Instead they went with Jermaine Cunningham (pick No. 53) and Brandon Spikes (No. 62) in the second round. They took receiver Taylor Price (No. 90) in the third round, five picks before Graham was chosen. 
In the fourth round, the Patriots went after Aaron Hernandez with the No. 113 selection, a "move" tight end who would eventually combine with Gronkowski to re-write records in terms of a team's production at the position.

Now with Hernandez incarcerated and Graham threatening to post double-digit touchdowns annually in New Orleans, it makes one wonder what might have been had the Patriots ranked Graham ahead of Price in that 2010 draft -- or had Graham accepted that offer in 2009 at a time when he might've had a hard time telling if a football was puffed or stuffed.

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Jimmy Graham draws flag in scrimmage for goal-post dunk

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has vowed to ignore the new rule banning goal-post dunks during games.  And while it remains to be seen whether Graham will go through with a plan that would sacrifice 15 yards of field position and cost him money via a league-imposed fine, he dusted off his signature move after scoring a touchdown during Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage.

Referee Gene Steratore, who has spent the past few days at Saints camp and sat down with PFT Live in an interview to be broadcast on Monday, threw a flag — to the loud disapproval of the fans in attendance.

Steratore explained that any use of the goal post during celebrations will result in a penalty during games.

“If it’s a clean dunk or a finger roll, I mean, come on,” Steratore said, via the New Orleans Advocate.  “[That's a] prop. We just have to go prop.”

The goal-post dunk and the Lambeau Leap survived the NFL’s prior ban against props.  Graham’s violent dunk during a Thursday night game last year, which knocked the crossbar askew, prompted the NFL to include the maneuver within the reach of the rule.

So who will be in charge of stopping Graham from doing a dunk during games?

“Nobody,” Saints safety Jairus Byrd told PFT Live in an interview that will be shown on Monday.  “Listen, as long as he’s in the end zone, that’s what we want.  So that’s his decision to make but as long as he’s getting in the end zone, you know, that’s a great thing.”

Kicking off from the 20 instead of the 35 won’t be a great thing, especially if it results in the opponent matching Graham’s visit to the end zone.

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Fantasy Football TE draft tiers: It’s Jimmy Graham and everyone else

As a tool for fantasy drafts, players can be grouped together in tiers of similar projected fantasy production.  Tiers can help a drafter decide how to choose between players at different positions; if a given player is the last one left in a higher tier, an owner may choose to select him over another player at a position with several players of comparable value left on the board.

To create our tiers, we are using Gene Wang’s top 30 TEs. Scoring figures are for standard settings and are courtesy of Fantasy Pros.

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

The only tight end who is a legitimate option in the first round of almost all fantasy drafts, Graham towered above all others at his position last season, and he is a very good bet to do the same this year.

Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Thomas went undrafted in most leagues last year, then slapped up a 12-touchdown season, then saw big-bodied Eric Decker depart in free agency. Davis snared 13 TDs, although he appears to have gained some competition for targets. All eyes will be on Gronkowski’s return from a torn ACL and MCL; if he looks like the dominating Gronk of old, he’ll shoot up draft boards.

Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens

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Jimmy Graham says "I am a hungry player"

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham went through what just about every high profile NFL player goes through at some point in their career - a tough negotiation session with the organization.

This offseason Graham didn't reach an agreement on a long term deal with the Saints until around 2 am on July 15th, just hours before the deadline. He didn’t have the benefit of training under the watchful eye of the Saints strength and condition coaches, but he did train with former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in Miami, and turned in the fast conditioning test time on the team yesterday.  “I feel fresh, I was just on extended vacation. I’m back hungry and ready to go!” Graham said. 

Graham admitted it was tough to see reports and speculation about an eventual deal with the Saints, not to mention the arbitration hearing process, but the All-Pro tight end says that’s all in the past. “I think it was a great deal for both sides. I just wanted a deal,” Graham said.  “What was unfortunate was in the offseason, all the false information that was out there and not being able to say anything about it, especially when you know whats going on. I’m an All-Pro tight end, and I’m going to stay that way.” Graham said he spent his days in the offseason working out, and it showed on the field: “There is no doubt he’s in shape, and he’s ready to roll. I had multiple conversations with him and he’s just glad to be back. I can see it in his eyes, he’s got a little pep in his step, he’s ready to roll,” explained quarterback Drew Brees. 

There is no reason to think Jimmy Graham won’t continue his dominance this season and beyond as he said “I’m a hungry player, I always play with a chip on my shoulder” after he was asked if the contract affects the way he would prepare for an NFL season. If rookie wide reciever Brandin Cooks progresses as well as the team hopes, this offense could be extremely scary in 2014, with the best tight end in football as one of their main weapons. 

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Saints say no awkwardness with Jimmy Graham

All offseason, the concern for the Saints was whether they could make the numbers work with *tight end Jimmy Graham.

But when he showed up for work, he posted another number that reminded them of his value.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Graham had the “low time” in the team’s pre-camp conditioning test.

“That was significant. I told him to stay in Miami every offseason,” Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “I mean, it was outstanding.”

Both Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis said the difficult negotiation (which led to discussions of how far he lined up from the tackle) was simply part of the process, and the $10 million a year deal now has everyone happy.

“Look, it was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well,” Loomis said. “Obviously going to an appeal hearing over the position argument was unique. But otherwise it was a negotiation. You know, all of these negotiations are tough. Obviously when it’s a high-profile guy, there’s more written about it. And those are personal issues for the players, in particular, and we understand that. But that’s behind us. We’re glad to have it done. I’m sure Jimmy’s glad to have it done.

“It’s just a process that we had to go through. And, look, I think both sides are pretty pleased with the outcome.”

Given that both Payton and Loomis testified in an arbitration hearing against Graham’s assertion that he should be a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes, there was the potential for awkwardness.

But now that business has been taken care of, they can get back to the business of football, and Graham is apparently ready.

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Drew Brees 'excited' to have Jimmy Graham back with Saints

COMFORT, Texas - After a day as honorary mayor of this small town in his home state, Drew Brees immediately faces another long, tough campaign -- as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.

Given what the New Orleans franchise has been through during the past decade, this season's training camp opens free of major distractions and disruptions, especially now that the money dispute over whether Jimmy Graham is a tight end or wide receiver has been resolved by a new contract.

But Brees is sticking to his game plan: stay ready for anything.

"I think our mentality, maybe like the military's, is to adapt and conquer," said Brees, whose 24-hour mayoral stint Wednesday was part of a Wrangler jeans promotion.

"It's been that way. No matter what's thrown at us, we find a way to handle and try to handle it with class and then be better for it at the end of the day.

"Tough offseason, just in regards to the whole Jimmy Graham situation. But you understand that's part of the process with free agency and contract situations. â?¦ I was in that situation two years ago."

Brees, whose own situation was resolved in 2012 by a five-year, $100-million deal, said Graham and Saints management both are now happy.

"I'm excited to have him back. â?¦ It's training camp time. It's football season. It's here. It's arrived. We're ready to roll," he said.

The eight-time Pro Bowler, who has thrown for 51,081 yards and 363 touchdowns in 13 seasons, arrived here early Wednesday via a Wrangler private jet that flew him from New Orleans to nearby San Antonio. He said the jet would take him to Lewisburg, W.Va., for the Saints' camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Players are due to report Thursday.

In nine seasons, the Saints have been through tragedy and turmoil, with a Super Bowl title in between: Amid the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Superdome was out of commission. The Saints went 3-13 playing home games at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, San Antonio's Alamodome and LSU's Tiger Stadium.

Coach Sean Payton and Brees arrived the next year. They led New Orleans to a Super Bowl title in the 2009 season.

Then the franchise was rocked by the Bountygate scandal in 2012. Payton was suspended for the season. General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended eight games. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely. The Saints went 7-9.

Last season, the Saints bounced back with an 11-5 regular season to earn a playoff wild card. They beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Does Brees begin this season with another Super Bowl title in his sights?

"You always feel that way. I'm not going to get ahead of ourselves because we've still got a lot of work to do. But I feel like all the pieces are in place. â?¦ If you stay healthy and things go your way, we've got as good a shot as anybody," he said.

With one Super Bowl title in hand, does that take some pressure off the 35-year-old?

"You try to avoid that mentality. Play like you don't have (a title)," said Brees. "I'm taking the approach that I'm 25 years old, I'm fresh in this league and every person who walks into the stadium to watch me play and watched my team play â?¦ we've got to prove something to them.'

There were plenty of Saints fans among the estimated 1,500 in attendance Wednesday at the Comfort High School stadium. Wrangler held the event for the national launch of its Advanced Comfort jeans.

Brees was honorary mayor by proclamation of a local judge. One local slogan of this community of about 2,300 is, "I found Comfort â?¦ in Texas." It was a fit for Wrangler. By proclamation, it also was deemed Comfort will be known as Advanced Comfort, Tex., for six months.

Free jeans and t-shirts were handed out. Wrangler estimated it gave away about 5,000 pairs of jeans. Attendees were allowed to ask for multiples pairs.

The jeans are for men. They were worn on the field by dozens of guys who took part in football drills dubbed the "Wrangler Comfort Challenge." The Comfort High football team took part and Brees supervised.

Brees also made a joking mayoral pledge.

"Well, now down to business. Now that I am the mayor, NO taxes!" he told the crowd from a platform on the field. He quickly added, "I don't think I have that authority."

Saints fan Jackie Freeman, 60, attended with several family members, including a 5-yearold grandson â?? named Drew.

"Of course, he's named after Drew Brees," said Freeman, who arrived here in the dark at 5 a.m. local time, more than two hours before Brees' scheduled arrival.

Freeman now lives about 45 minutes away in Universal City, Tex., but she grew up on the Mississippi coast and was a Saints' fan from their first season in 1967. Through the team's first two struggling decades, she never lost faith.

"I never wore a bag on my head and I never called them the 'Aints,' ''said Freeman.

Nick Alvarado, 23, of Kerrville, Tex., was a fan of Reggie Bush when he was at Southern Cal and Brees when he was with the San Diego Chargers. "When the two got together in New Orleans, that was it. I was a Saints fan," said Alvarado, wearing Brees' No. 9 jersey.

He likes the team's chances for a Super Bowl: "They lost a couple of players, but they still have Drew Brees."

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Tony Gonzalez: Saints' Jimmy Graham is 'underpaid still'

Though Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints spent the offseason disputing what position Graham played, it ended up not mattering after the two sides agreed on a 4-year, $40 million contract with $21 million guaranteed Tuesday. Even after Graham's big payday, however, 14-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez thinks the Saints tight end is underpaid. 

For the Win spoke to Gonzalez at a photoshoot Tuesday, and the former Chiefs and Falcons tight end shared his thoughts: 

"If you look at the numbers and production and what he means to that team, I think he’s underpaid still. If you compare him to all the other elite receivers around the league and leading the league with 16 touchdowns, 1,200 yards and 14 yards per catch. That’s an elite receiver and he should be paid like one. Just because he’s a tight end and that’s the name of his position he’s going to be paid less. I don’t think that’s fair."

Graham's 36 receiving touchdowns from 2011-2013 are the most in the NFL in that time. Graham's new deal makes him the league's highest-paid tight end. 

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Jimmy Graham, Saints agree to 4-year, $40M contract

Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints reached an agreement on a four-year, $40 million contract that makes the pass-catcher the highest-paid tight end in the league, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday, per a source involved in the deal. The team later confirmed that they agreed to terms on a multi-year deal.

Graham received a $12 million signing bonus and between $20 to $21 million of the deal is guaranteed, Rapoport reported. Graham will be paid $13 million -- more money than if he was ruled a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes -- but will carry just a $4 million cap number for 2014. He will earn $21 million over the first two years of the contract and $30 million over three years.

The tight end's new contract places him above Rob Gronkowski's annual average salary of $9 million per season. Graham also got a higher guaranteed number than Gronk's $16.5 million on the Patriots' six-year, $53 million extension signed in 2012.

The four-year pact gives Graham another shot at free agency when he is 31 years old.

Graham and the Saints underwent a fierce offseason battle after the team placed the franchise tag on the player. Graham argued he should be tagged at the wide receiver level -- not the tight end level (a $5 million difference). The Saints won the system-arbitration decision.

On Monday, Rapoport reported that Graham appealed the league's arbitration decision that he is a tight end for franchise tag purposes. That move was insurance in case the two sides couldn't come to an agreement on a long-term deal. The appeal now becomes moot.

Graham and the Saints had until Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline to get a long-term deal signed. Much like Brees' negotiation with the Saints in 2012, deadlines generally spurn action.

Graham certainly deserves to be the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. He led the league last year with 16 touchdowns and gobbled up 86 passes for 1,215 yards -- despite being slowed by a plantar fascia injury for most of the second half of the season.

The $10 million average salary pays Graham closer to $12 million receiver tag than the $7 million tight end tag.

On its face, that average salary is similar to the contract extension receiver Brandon Marshall signed this offseason -- Marshall got a slightly higher guarantee at $22.3 million.

Graham's guaranteed money also outdistances the recent tight end deals of Jared Cook and Dennis Pitta by $5 million.

The Saints tight end would slide next to Marshall, as the seventh-highest deal for a receiver based on yearly average, with the guaranteed number placing him at No. 6 among wideout contracts, per spotrac.com.

The facts of the deal boil down simply: Graham got paid as a top-flight pass-catcher -- which he is -- and can test the market again in 2018. The Saints locked up their most dynamic playmaker for four seasons at a reasonable cost.

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Jimmy Graham appeals ruling, but record pact may be close

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday night that Graham and the Saints are close to an agreement on a contract that will make Graham the highest-paid tight end in NFL history. Terms were not disclosed.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has appealed an arbitrator’s ruling that declared Graham is a tight end and not a wide receiver and should be franchise-tagged as a tight end. NFL.com broke the news, citing a source close to the situation.

The difference between the two is $5.27 million — $5 million more than Graham was apparently willing to walk away from without a bigger fight.

The deadline to sign a long-term deal is 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That isn’t likely to happen now that Graham is digging his heels in. If no long-term deal is struck, he cannot negotiate a new contract until after this season.

The NFLPA agreed to advise Graham on his options at the conclusion of the arbitration ruling decided by special master Stephen Burbank last month. The crux of his decision was based on the distance from offensive tackle in which Graham lined up most frequently, and his multiple duties from that position — as a pass-catcher, but also as both a pass- and run-blocker. Saints coach Sean Payton was among those who testified in support of the Saints.

Graham made only $1.3 million in the last year of his rookie contract in 2013. He may want upward of $12 million, but the two parties may find something agreeable between that and the $7 million for a franchise-tagged tight end. But unless it happens between now and Tuesday’s deadline, no decision will be made until after the season.

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Jimmy Graham not likely to appeal TE ruling

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has until Monday to file an appeal of Steven Burbank's ruling last week that he is indeed a tight end for the purpose of a franchise tag salary.  The appeal would be to a three person panel in the NFL; however, that three person panel has to "accept" the case if Graham and his camp can prove erroneous facts in the first hearing, or a procedural error in his initial hearing.  

The panel is basically supposed to accept Burbank's ruling as fact unless it was clearly erroneous in it's finding of facts, incorrect application of the law, or abuse of discretion, according to the CBA. Simply put, if they think Steven Burbank's ruling wasn't based on the fact or "law," the three person panel can accept and overturn the ruling. In this case the law is the CBA.  

It doesn't appear Graham will file an appeal, at this point it would certainly interfere with Tuesday's deadline (July 15th) for getting a long term contract worked out with the Saints.  The more logical option for Graham is wait and see what the offer is like from the Saints.  

As I said a few days ago, I still feel really good about Graham and the Saints working out a long term contract on or before the July 15th.  

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Jimmy Graham named in the top ten of NFL Network's Top 100 players list

The NFL Network's Top 100 players for 2014 wrapped up Wednesday night and when it was all said and done, the New Orleans Saints had two players in the top ten and three on the entire list.

Quarterback Drew Brees was ranked No. 11 in 2013, but climbed to No. 6 this year. Tight end Jimmy Graham took the No. 10 spot, the highest tight end on the list, and defensive end Cameron Jordan came in at No. 99.

Arizona Cardinals defensive back and Louisiana native Tyrann Mathieu said in the NFL Network feature, "Well, you know what the Saints are going to do, they stick to what they do best. But the trick is, can you stop them? Can you stop Drew when he puts that ball on the money?

"His accuracy is pinpoint," Mathieu said. 

Graham was surprisingly left off of last year's list, though, in 2012, Graham was No. 14. 

Last season Graham caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Saints.

The list is determined by a league-wide vote of NFL players.

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Drew Brees: Jimmy Graham revolutionized TE position

An arbitrator recently deemed Jimmy Graham a tight end for franchise tag purposes. However, in New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' view, how Graham is designated doesn't encapsulate how he's changed the way the position is played.

"It doesn't really matter," Brees told CanalStreetChronicles.com last week about Graham being a tight end. "At the end of the day, Jimmy Graham has revolutionized the position. He's a guy who is so talented at so many things you know and obviously he's a big part of our offense and I hope that they're able to reach a long-term agreement here sooner than later."

We fully expect Graham to get the largest tight end contract in NFL history. Other tight ends jumpstarted the evolution of the position -- Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates are recent examples -- and Graham is a byproduct of the current pass-heavy league. However, Graham's production and recent arbitration have certainly altered how we differentiate and discuss pass-catching tight ends.

Brees said he is "anxious and hopeful" Graham and the Saints will agree to a long-term deal prior to the July 15th deadline. NFL Media's Albert Breer noted last week that the Saints anticipate an agreement with Graham "right before" the clock strikes midnight.

"I was in somewhat of a similar position two years ago, so I get it. I understand how this goes, but he knows that all of his teammates are behind him and hoping that he's able to get what he deserves and then rejoin the team as quickly as possible," Brees said.

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Saints disagree with reason behind Jimmy Graham ruling, website reports

Yes, the Saints like the decision from arbitrator Stephen Burbank that tight end Jimmy Graham is a tight end for franchise-tag purposes.  But the Saints aren’t thrilled with the way Burbank reached his conclusion.

Per a source with knowledge of the team’s position, the Saints disagree with the notion that the question of tight end vs. receiver boils down to whether the player lines up most of the time within four yards of an offensive tackle.  As the Saints see it, a tight end is a tight end no matter where he lines up or how often he lines up there.

The Saints see three key factors for determining tight end status: (1) the player’s size; (2) the player’s position group for practice and meeting purposes; and (3) the manner in which the opponent defends him in man coverage.

The shifting of tight ends to the slot between the tackle and receiver and/or wide of the widest receiver has nothing to do with making the tight end into a wide receiver.  Moving the tight end has one primary goal:  To aid the offense’s assessment before the snap as to whether the defense has lined up in man or zone.

Because most teams defend tight ends when in man coverage with a linebacker or a safety, the use of a linebacker or a safety to cover a tight end when he’s in the slot or split wide means that the defense is showing man-to-man coverage before the snap.  If the tight end lines up in the slot or wide and a cornerback lines up on him, the defense is conveying a zone look.

While exceptions exists (for example, the Patriots used cornerback Aqib Talib to cover Graham and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez in 2013), receivers are never covered by a linebacker.  So if the Saints come out of the huddle and Graham splits wide on one side and he’s covered by a linebacker or a safety and not the corner that would be assigned to that side of the field in zone, the coverage is man-to-man.

In other words, the Saints believe a tight end is still a tight end even when he’s not lined up tight to the end of the line because of the way he’s defended.  Which means that, in theory, Graham could split wide on every snap and remain a tight end.

The question could become a bit more complicated if Graham lines up as a wide receiver so often that teams began to defend him like a receiver.  For now, though, the various looks-like-a-duck factors conclusively point to Graham being a tight end.

It’s possible, if not likely, that Burbank agreed with the concept, but that he felt compelled (as judges and arbitrators often do) to come up with a formula or to otherwise justify the decision quantitatively.  Per the source, the four-yard-split concept appeared in the NFL’s pre-hearing brief, and it didn’t get much play during the two-day hearing.  However, since the parties stipulated (that’s a fancy lawyer term for “agreed&rdquoWinking to the various percentages of times that Graham lined up tight to the tackle and within four yards of the tackle and beyond four yards of the tackle, it was easy for Burbank to add up the snaps and fashion a standard.

Which makes the decision seem a lot more arbitrary, and which could make it a little more vulnerable to reversal, if/when Graham appeals the decision.

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Despite ruling, ground still set for new Jimmy Graham contract

Heading into the holiday weekend, the Saints find themselves at odds with a player in terms of his worth, re-evaluating how to lock down a critical component to their offense for the long haul.

If the Jimmy Graham negotiations sound familiar, they should. This exact same thing happened two years ago with Drew Brees.

Nearly to the day, even. On July 3, 2012, an arbitrator ruled on Brees franchise-tag status, deciding New Orleans had just one more opportunity to tag Brees (the Chargers hit him in 2005 after his rookie deal was up).

10 days later, on the eve of the deadline to negotiate a new deal with players who were given the franchise tag, New Orleans and Brees hammered out a five-year, $100 million deal.

Despite a different arbitration result -- the Saints won out over Graham this time around -- the offseason script should still produce a similar ending. So what would a deal look like?

The key is both sides now know where to start negotiating.

Jimmy Graham is a tight end. His Twitter account and the legal system tell us so. He'll be a tight end next year too, when the Saints would have the option of franchising him a second time at 120 percent of this year's tag cost.

Therefore $15,477,000 is the baseline for guaranteed money owed to Graham when the Saints are talking a new deal. (A particularly substantial difference from the $27,086,400 Graham would be "owed" under a pair of wide receiver franchise tags.)

If you're talking new deal with Graham you've got to assume he's going to be paid as the top tight end in the NFL. Rob Gronkowski's currently the highest-paid tight end, at $9 million a year. Gronk's deal is missing substantial guaranteed money, however.

So why not bump up Graham's contract to $20 million guaranteed over a the course of a five-year deal and give him $45.5 million over the life of the contract?
It would give Graham the highest APY of any tight end ($9.1 million), the highest guaranteed (by far, $20 million) of any tight end in the NFL and also the highest guarantee per year ($4 million) of any tight end in the NFL.

For the Saints, it's not a really substantial reach: they're on the hook for more than $15 million if they want Graham around for two more years anyway. It keeps them from hitting the double-digit cost per year while keeping Brees top weapon around for as long as the quarterback can play (and through Graham's prime plus a year or so).

Additionally, it pays Graham, basically, like a top-10 wide receiver. He's one of the top 15 players in the game, if you're willing to believe Pete Prisco's rankings ... or Pat Kirwan's, where he's a top-10 player overall.

Per OverTheCap.com, Graham's (hypothetical) $9.1 million a year would rank ninth overall for wide receivers, just behind Andre Johnson and just ahead of Greg Jennings and Victor Cruz.

Factor in the large guaranteed sum for his services and it's hard to imagine Graham turning down such a deal, even if it doesn't hit the $12 million per year a franchise-tagged wideout would get.

Get Graham there and you're plugging him in, contractually-speaking, as a top-10 paid wide receiver in the NFL per OverTheCap.com, somewhere in the range of Greg Jennings, Andre Johnson and Victor Cruz.

There are concerns. The two sides are reportedly at "ground zero" with negotiations. Graham and the Saints don't have long to negotiate -- July 13 is the deadline to reach a new deal with a player who was given the franchise tag.

But history and a logical middle ground for contract negotiations make it a good bet Graham ends up inking a deal before things can get ugly.

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Happy ending to come from Jimmy Graham contract dispute

So, it's official. Jimmy Graham has been a tight end, just like his social media profile and the New Orleans Saints roster said he was. Of course he was.
Didn't Graham briefly hold a record for tight ends? Deep down, or maybe even not so deep down, Jimmy and his agent knew the ruling would confirm his status as a tight end in the National Football League.

Without speaking to anyone directly involved in the situation, I would be willing to bet lunch at Mother's that Graham will be in camp and under contract on time. It makes sense for him and for the Saints.

Who knows how Graham would do outside of Sean Payton's play calling and Drew Brees' passing brilliance. Graham does well in and because of the Saints' offensive schemes. Not only is he one of Drew's favorite targets, but he is also like family to Number 9. Brees has mentored the former hoopster, making the duo a force with which to be reckoned. The Brees-to-Graham connection, in my mind, will be at full force this season.

Now, what has Graham gained by filing his grievance? He has made the league take a look at position-based pay a whole new way. Should a receiver really be paid more than a tight end, simply because of where he lines up before the snap? It's something league management and the NFLPA will be dealing with sooner rather than later.

So, how will the Saints and Graham work it out? Saints GM Mickey Loomis is as smart as they come and works overtime to keep his franchise a friendly place to play. It's no secret that free agents like Curtis Lofton sought out a position with the Black and Gold because of the way players are treated in New Orleans. Loomis will, no doubt, show Jimmy the love and respect he deserves.

My guess would be that in addition to a base salary that will make Graham the highest paid tight end in the league, Loomis will offer performance-based bonuses. Expect a contract that pays dividends to Graham if he meets or exceeds usual tight end thresholds. If Graham catches as many passes as a top NFL receiver, he'd have the ability to earn something close to elite receiver dollars. It's a win-win for everyone, especially the Who Dat faithful.

Now, if both sides could come up with a bonus plan that improves Graham's run blocking, it very well could be a Black and Gold Super Bowl in early February.

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Jimmy Graham officially ruled as a tight end

Jimmy Graham is a tight end after all.

In a groundbreaking decision, the NFL has confirmed that arbitrator Stephen Burbank denied Graham's request to officially be declared a wide receiver under the NFL's franchise-tag rules.

Although Graham lined up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last year, Burbank agreed with the New Orleans Saints and the NFL Management Council, who argued that the tight end position has always involved a combination of splitting out wide to run pass routes and staying in to block -- especially in today's modern passing offenses.

Graham and the NFL Players Association can appeal the decision within 10 days to a three-member appeals panel. 

In the meantime, the Saints will not have to increase their one-year tender offer of $7.053 million to Graham. The receiver tender would have cost them $12.132 million.

More important, with the franchise grievance nearing a conclusion, the two sides can now focus on setting their own value for Graham in long-term contract talks.

The deadline for signing long-term deals with franchised players is July 15.

"The NFLPA will review with Jimmy Graham the decision from Arbitrator Stephen Burbank which permits the player to be designated as a tight end for Franchise Tag purposes. We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter," the NFLPA said in a statement. "We will also continue to assist Graham and his representation as necessary to help the player reach a fair long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints."

Graham will still almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million per year that Rob Gronkowski received in a 2012 extension with the New England Patriots. However, it will be harder for Graham to approach something in the $12 million-per-year range now.

The Saints have leverage because they could potentially lock up Graham for two straight years with the franchise tag at costs of $7.053 million this year and $8.46 million in 2015 -- though Graham obviously could refuse to sign the tenders and hold out of training camp.

Graham and the NFLPA were banking on the notion that Burbank would assign a more literal definition to the wording in the collective bargaining agreement, which states that the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

Ultimately, Burbank ruled that Graham was officially lining up at the position of tight end either when he was against the line or when he was flexed out into the slot "at least if such alignment brought him within four yards of (the nearest offensive) lineman."

Burbank said he only considered those plays because evidence showed that Graham was lined up within four yards of the line on more than 50 percent of his snaps. Burbank determined that it wasn't essential for purposes of this grievance to consider snaps where Graham lined up even farther out.

Burbank's 12-page ruling laid out a number of compelling arguments from both sides -- including testimony from Saints coach Sean Payton, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and expert witnesses Bill Polian and Butch Davis, among others.

The evidence that appeared to weigh most heavily into Burbank's decision was that Graham was often defended as a tight end even when he lined up in the slot (i.e., by a linebacker or a strong safety).

Wrote Burbank: "The evidence also supports findings that, like tight ends, wide receivers and running backs often line up in the slot ... and that the defense employed against any player so aligned turns on the player's position, not his alignment, because of the physical attributes and skill sets of the players in those positions."

Burbank then cited testimony from Payton, who said, "When our receivers are lined up widest in formations, they are never covered by safeties or linebackers ever. ... Never ever ever ever ever does a linebacker match up with a wide receiver ever."

As Burbank dissected all of the arguments, he wrote that there were "a number of sources of ambiguity" in trying to determine when Graham was officially lining up as a tight end -- mainly because there is no clear definition of the tight end position contained within the CBA.

The two sides even submitted alternate definitions of the word "position" from competing dictionaries, which Burbank said he didn't find helpful in this case. And Burbank dismissed the notion that the word "tight" should be taken literally -- just as the word "wide" shouldn't be taken literally in defining a wide receiver. Burbank wrote that such literal interpretations would leave Graham in "a categorical no man's land."

However, Burbank also dismissed a number of arguments from the Saints and the NFL's side as being absolute definitions, as well -- including the arguments that Graham was drafted as a tight end, works with tight ends in practice, has earned postseason awards as a tight end, is listed on the roster as a tight end and even that he refers to himself as a tight end in social media.

Graham's grievance against his position designation was the first to reach the stage of an arbitrator's decision. In 2008, a hearing was held over whether the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs should be considered a defensive end or a linebacker. But the two sides worked out a compromise before an arbitrator made his ruling.

No matter what position he's been playing, Graham has emerged as one of the NFL's top weapons during his four-year career since being drafted in the third round out of the University of Miami.

Graham has led the NFL with 36 touchdown catches over the past three years. He has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per year over that span.

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Graham case included testimony from Bill Polian, Butch Davis

As the ruling on the Jimmy Graham grievance approaches, more information is trickling out regarding last week’s arbitration hearing on the question of whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver for purposes of the franchise tag.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the cases on behalf of the NFL and NFLPA were bolstered by expert testimony from former NFL G.M. Bill Polian (pictured) and former NFL head coach Butch Davis, respectively.  Polian was an expert witness as to the position that Graham is a tight end for tag purposes; Davis testified on behalf of the position that Graham should be regarded as a receiver.

Other witnesses included, from the team’s perspective, G.M. Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.  Testifying on Graham’s behalf were Graham and former Saints (current Steelers) receiver Lance Moore.

At issue is $5.3 million on a one-year deal.  The league and the team believe Graham should be tendered at $7 million for 2014.  The union and the player believe that Graham should be tendered at $12.3 million.

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Jimmy Graham ruling coming Thursday

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank expects to inform both sides of his ruling on Jimmy Graham's franchise-tag grievance on Thursday -- "no sooner, no later" -- a source told ESPN on Monday.

Graham is attempting to be officially declared a wide receiver instead of a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. If he wins, the New Orleans Saints will have to increase their one-year offer from $7.05 million to $12.13 million.

Either party can appeal Burbank's decision. But in the meantime, the winner will gain critical leverage in their long-term contract negotiations. The Saints and Graham have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement or else Graham can play under only a one-year deal this season.

Burbank heard arguments from both the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association during a hearing in the New Orleans area on June 17 and 18. Both sides were asked to submit final briefs to Burbank on Friday, according to a source.

Saints coach Sean Payton was among those testifying on the NFL's behalf, a source confirmed. According to Pro Football Talk, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian also testified in support of the position that Graham should be considered a tight end, while former NFL coach Butch Davis and former Saints receiver Lance Moore testified in support of the position that Graham should be considered a wide receiver.

Graham's argument is that he should be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide 67 percent of the time last season. The collective bargaining agreement states the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

What remains ambiguous, however, is what officially constitutes lining up as a tight end, which has always been a hybrid between receiver and blocker -- especially in the modern passing game.

For example, Tony Gonzalez, one of the NFL's all-time great tight ends, lined up in the slot or out wide even more than Graham last season (67.3 percent to 66.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

Loomis said earlier this offseason, "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end. ... That's what makes him valuable."

Graham identifies himself as a tight end in his Twitter bio, which the NFL planned to use among its arguments, according to the NFL Network.

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Jimmy Graham tops preseason tight end rankings

An early-season MVP candidate, Graham averaged 119 yards per game prior to his late-October plantar fascia tear and just 52 yards once his snaps were reduced following the injury. With Graham hobbled, the Saints' offense stumbled through a five-game November-December stretch, topping 17 points just once. Graham still led all tight ends with 86 receptions, 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.

Gronkowski was better than ever before his season-ending ACL injury in December. After struggling for the majority of the season, Tom Brady led the NFL with 35.75 points and 473.25 yards over a five-game span once Gronk returned to the lineup. From a statistical standpoint, Brady has been Aaron Rodgers with the Patriots' All-Pro tight end healthy -- and Andy Dalton when Gronkowski is sidelined. Keep in mind: Gronk is younger than 2013 breakout stars Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas.

It would be interesting to see Davis' numbers if he wasn't asked to concentrate as much on blocking at the expense of his pass routes in the 49ers' ball-control offense. It's telling that Davis' regular season averages of 43.7 yards and 0.44 touchdowns per game spike to 75.0 and 0.88 in the playoffs.

Cameron's smooth athleticism evokes memories of an early-career Tony Gonzalez. Hauling in errant passes from the Cleveland Browns' trio of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell, Cameron posted 15 more catches and 129 more yards than fellow former hoopster Thomas managed with Peyton Manning.

Witten isn't quite as spry after the catch as he once was, but he remains one of the NFL's most complete tight ends for the Cowboys.

Miller, meanwhile, is the AFC's answer to Davis. If Pittsburgh used Miller in a similar fashion to Graham, he would clear 70 receptions on an annual basis. It's no coincidence that the Steelers got off to an 0-4 start as Miller worked his way back from an ACL and finished with the conference's best record in the second half of the season once the tight end was back to full strength.

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Arbiter's decision expected this week in Jimmy Graham grievance

Jimmy Graham sees himself as something other than a tight end. An NFL arbiter is expected to announce this week whether Graham is right.

There could be more at stake than Graham's desire to be paid as a wide receiver. Other teams and players are watching the New Orleans Saints' situation. And the Saints could be a risk of losing Graham's services.

Graham contends his role with the Saints is that of a wide receiver. As such, he believes he should be paid $12 million while carrying the team's franchise tag. As a tight end, his tagged salary is only $7 million.

Last week's two-day hearing in New Orleans allowed both sides to present arguments to by NFL arbitrator Stephen Burbank. It's not clear when he will announce his decision, only that it is expected in the coming days.

Graham's stand, supported by the NFL players' union, is based not on his position as decided by the team, but his use in the offense. He lined up as a wideout for two-thirds of the Saints' snaps in 2013.

There is a way to avoid aggravation between the Saints and Graham. A long-term contract would put the franchise tag question to rest. A similar situation was settled that way in 2009, when the Baltimore Ravens and Terrell Suggs reached accord.

Without that, Burbank could change the way teams decide positions in assigning franchise tags. 

If Burbank rules in favor of Graham, the Saints might be forced to part ways with a significant piece of their offense's puzzle.

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NFL may be pushing for a Jimmy Graham settlement

With the Jimmy Graham grievance hearing completed and the outcome now in the hands of an arbitrator, some league insiders believe that the NFL wants to see the player and the team take a page from Terrell Suggs and the Ravens, circa 2008.

Six years ago, Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome and agent Gary Wichard (who died in 2011) resolved among themselves the question of whether Suggs is a linebacker or a defensive end for purposes of the franchise tag.  While the Saints have done a very effective job of creating the impression that they have nothing to do with the position that Graham’s position for franchise-tag purposes should be tight end not receiver, the reality is that the Saints have plenty to gain — and plenty to lose — based on the outcome.  With $5.3 million in cash and cap space hinging on the question of whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver for tag purposes, the Saints undoubtedly want the number to be lower.  Especially since the $12.3 million receiver tag would lay the foundation for a far pricier long-term deal.

With Suggs, the two sides worked out a one-year franchise tender and then struck a long-term deal in 2009.  With Graham, the best outcome for everyone would be a long-term deal forged during this period of uncertainty regarding the outcome of the grievance.

Of course, that would require the Saints to deviate from their apparent preference to work out a new deal on the latest possible date.  In this case, the deadline for a long-term deal arrives on July 15.

The Saints pushed it to the limit two years ago with Drew Brees, losing along the way a grievance that seemed far more winnable than the current one.  Brees argued that, if the Saints (who applied the franchise tag in 2012) were to tag him again in 2013, he’d be entitled not to a 20-percent raise but a whopping 44-percent raise, since it would be the third time in his career that Brees drew the franchise tag.  (The Chargers tagged him in 2005.)  The argument seemed weak and flimsy and unsupported by the plain language of the labor deal.  And yet Brees still won.

Maybe the Saints should consider that precedent now.  While the team has arguments about which it feels very strongly, losing the Graham grievance would be far less surprising than losing the Brees grievance.  If they do, it will cost $12.3 million to keep Graham for 2014, $14.76 million for 2015, and $21.25 million for 2016.

That’s $48.31 million over three years on a year-to-year approach, if Graham chooses to take the Walter Jones approach and assume the injury risk for as long as the Saints are willing to continue using the tag.

If the Saints don’t want to pay a guy they regard as a tight end $14.76 million in 2015 or $21.25 million in 2016, then he’ll hit the open market and go to the highest bidder.

For all those reasons and plenty of others (including the sending of a message to young players that they’ll be rewarded for their efforts without a protracted fight and/or protracted delays), the Saints would be wise to find a way to work this out.

If Graham wins his grievance, they’ll wish they had.

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Jimmy Graham's Twitter Bio May Cost Him Millions

All-world tight end Jimmy Graham trying to make the case that he isn’t a tight end may seem like a silly semantical argument to the majority of football fans and people with rational minds.  However, it makes a big difference in terms of the paycheck he is able to collect from the NFL’s franchise tag.

With the Saints franchising Graham this offseason, he’s due just over $7 million dollars as a tight end.  If Graham was labeled as a wide receiver, that would jump to over $12 million.  Obviously, the Saints would much prefer for Graham to be considered a tight end while Graham wants that wide receiver money.

Why is this even an argument?  Well, Graham has a good case – the letter of the law states that the position of tagged players depends upon where they lined up for the majority of snaps.  Graham played 67% of his snaps off the line either in the slot or split out wide.

However, that doesn’t take into account the changing nature of the tight end in today’s NFL.  The league and the Saints have a few pieces of evidence at their disposal as well as the grievance hearing takes place today.  Perhaps the most interesting is that Graham labels himself as a tight end in his Twitter bio.

I don’t think a Twitter bio alone will cost Jimmy Graham $5 million dollars this year, but it is quite the irony.  He and his representatives are trying to build a case convincing everyone that he’s not a tight end… and yet there he is calling himself a tight end.  It kinda blows a hole in everything he’s trying to accomplish, doesn’t it?

Regardless of what happens in the grievance hearing and whether Graham is a tight end or a wide receiver or a slash or a dunking superathlete, hopefully it won’t matter too much in the end and he and the Saints can come to a long term solution.  At least that’s what this Saints fan is hoping for…

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Position U: Tight ends: The U

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

See the rest of ESPN’s rankings here

ESPN failed to remember proCane TE Bubba Franks.

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Jimmy Graham, Saints should strike deal now

It’s probably fair to paint Jimmy Graham as the underdog in his long-awaited grievance hearing, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

However, I think it’s the New Orleans Saints that stand to lose the most.

That’s why the best play for both sides is to come together and strike a long-term contract agreement on their own, before an arbitrator ever makes a ruling on whether Graham is officially deemed a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes.

They should find common ground somewhere between $10 million and $11 million per year -- which I absolutely believe Graham is worth, regardless of what position he plays.

I can understand why the Saints and general manager Mickey Loomis would feel confident that Graham’s request to be declared a wide receiver will be denied. I agree with them that Graham is a tight end, even though he lined up 67 percent of the time either in the slot or out wide last year. Tight ends have always been a hybrid between receivers and blockers.

However, there’s no way they can feel completely certain of how an independent arbitrator will rule.

And if the arbitrator rules in Graham’s favor, it would open up a huge can of worms for the Saints.

They would have to increase their one-year franchise-tag tender from $7.035 million to $12.3 million. That would immediately require New Orleans to carve out more than $3 million in salary cap space. New Orleans could do this by restructuring some current contracts.

More importantly, it would become extremely difficult for the Saints to convince Graham to accept a long-term deal worth less than $12 million per year. Graham could choose to play out his one-year deal at $12.3 million, then hit the open market next year. And a training camp holdout would become likely under that scenario.

There’s even a remote possibility the Saints would consider removing the franchise tag altogether if they don’t feel Graham is worth a one-year, $12.3 million deal.

However, that’s not to say the Saints should panic.

Most observers seem to agree that Graham is more likely to be declared a tight end than a receiver. And if that happens, Graham and agent Jimmy Sexton would also lose a great deal of leverage in their long-term contract negotiations with the Saints.

If Graham’s grievance is denied, the Saints could lock him up for two straight years with the franchise tag at costs of $7.035 million in 2014 and $8.44 million in 2015. And the Saints, therefore, wouldn’t have much incentive to offer Graham more than $10 million per year.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, now an analyst for ESPN, offered some insight into what the Saints might be thinking as the hearing approaches.

Dominik believes Graham is a tight end. “My gut is that’s the way the grievance is going to go, because that’s really the position he does play.”

However, Dominik said the Saints will have to at least consider the idea of working out a long-term deal before the grievance is decided.

“I think you would like to get a deal done, just because you want to get a deal done for your organization, for your franchise, for peace of mind,” Dominik said. “But I also think there is that bit in the back of your mind that says if you win the arbitration, then his number is probably a little bit lower than what they want to be.

“Because they're probably trying [to make Graham] the highest-paid tight end, but below the $10 [million] to $13 million the receivers are getting right now. And if you win the arbitration, it gives you a little bit more leverage. But Jimmy’s represented by very good agents, and they’re gonna try to maximize it.”

As nice as the idea sounds, it’s obviously easier said than done for the Saints and Graham to agree on the value of a long-term contract.

Graham will certainly surpass the $9 million per year that the New England Patriots gave Rob Gronkowski in a 2012 extension, the previous high for a tight end.

But how much higher will the Saints be willing to go?

Personally, I think Graham is worth more than $10 million per year. Graham has led the NFL, regardless of position, with 36 touchdown catches over the past three seasons. He has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per season in that span.

That kind of consistent production can’t be dismissed by dissecting where he lines up or whom he lines up against. The business side of these negotiations shouldn't make anyone lose sight of the fact that the Saints and Graham are one of the best marriages in the NFL. He’s been a model player for them on and off the field. He’s a perfect fit with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in an offense that thrives on exploiting mismatches. And he has consistently fought through injuries and continued to produce.

I think Graham belongs in the same class as receivers like Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall, whose deals range from $10 million to $11.2 million per year, the fifth- through eighth-highest salaries among receivers.

Dominik, however, feels there is a distinction between Graham and those top-flight receivers -- something that was exposed last year when teams like the New England Patriots quieted Graham by putting their top cornerback, Aqib Talib, against him.

That’s why Dominik said he would lean more toward basing Graham’s contract off the top tight end deals rather than those second-tier receiver deals.

“I think he’s at the highest point of the tight end market, which is why I think he’s gonna break through and be the highest-paid tight end when his deal is done,” Dominik said. “But I do think the position is gonna be suppressed a little bit in terms of not being a Brandon Marshall or a Vincent Jackson, just in terms of what happened with Aqib Talib and a little bit of that.

“There are a lot of mismatches you can create [with Graham], but there are things that are limitations for him in the run game or when he’s manned up against a very good corner.”

One thing Dominik and I wholeheartedly agree on, however, is this: “It will be extremely fascinating to watch it play out.”

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Jimmy Graham's absence from minicamp felt, but not disastrous

On Black and Gold Today from New Orleans Saints minicamp, sports reporter Rachel Whittaker and Fox 8 Saints reporter Sean Fazende wrap up the week with offensive insight.

Tight end Jimmy Graham was not present during the three days of practice as he and the Saints prepare for a grievance hearing starting June 17 regarding whether Graham should be valued as a tight end or wide receiver under the franchise tag rules. However, is Graham's absence a big deal at this point?

Also, Nick Toon is battling for a wide receiver spot with the Saints. With only four catches in two seasons, this summer is critical for Toon. What skills has he shown to make his case alongside other proven Saints receivers?

The Saints have their last OTAs next week and then break before training camp begins in West Virginia on July 24.

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NFL source: Jimmy Graham gripe 'naked cash grab'

An NFL source calls the NFLPA's claim that Jimmy Graham should be franchise tagged as a receiver as opposed to a tight end a "naked cash grab."

That's an actual source within the NFL, as opposed to the vague "league source" we typically encounter in these kinds of stories. "It ignores Mr. Graham's use as a traditional tight end on roughly 60 percent of the snaps where he lined up within four yards of the tackle," the league's source said of Graham's argument. "It also ignores the historical use of the tight end position." The league can gripe all it wants, but the fact is, Graham lined up in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last season. Graham could win his grievance, upping his tag from $7.035 million to $12.3 million.

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Jimmy Graham hearing next week

With Jimmy Graham's grievance hearing scheduled to begin one week from Tuesday, a league source indicated that the NFL Management Council will make a strong counterargument against the NFL Players Association's claim that he should be considered a wide receiver instead of a tight end for franchise-tag purposes.

At stake is whether the New Orleans Saints should be required to offer Graham a one-year franchise-tag salary of $12.3 million instead of $7.035 million -- not to mention a tremendous amount of leverage in long-term contract negotiations.

"The union's position is a naked cash grab," the source said. "It ignores Mr. Graham's use as a traditional tight end on roughly 60 percent of the snaps where he lined up within 4 yards of the tackle. It also ignores the historical use of the tight end position.

"Since the days of Mike Ditka, coaches have split the tight end wide to gain information about the defensive set and gain a matchup advantage. According to the union's position, last year's All-Pro tight end was not a tight end and Mike Ditka was a wide receiver."

The NFLPA, meanwhile, will argue that Graham should be considered a wide receiver since he lined up for 67 percent of his snaps in either the slot or out wide last season (according to ESPN Stats & Information).

According to the letter of the law, the collective bargaining agreement states that the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

A neutral third-party arbitrator will have to determine what exactly constitutes lining up as a tight end.

It's a debate that has grown in recent years as the modern passing game has continued to evolve. Other tight ends have talked about making the same argument, such as Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley.

But this will be the first time the debate has actually reached the point of a grievance hearing.

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Vernon Davis: Pay Jimmy Graham like a WR

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who is angling for his own contract extension, said he believes that the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham deserves more than just a tight end franchise-tag salary.

"I think Jimmy Graham is trying to make an informed decision as far as his contract. He believes that he deserves more, and I believe that he deserves more," Davis said when asked during a "SportsCenter" interview Thursday about the franchise-tag grievance that Graham filed. "He's just a wonderful presence. He's a great player. He has a lot of potential to go above and beyond and just go further. He is one of those guys that is a part of that TE position that are changing the game -- Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, [Rob] Gronkowski.

"Those guys are some fantastic players. If it was me, if I was the owner of the team, I would give the kid everything he wants because he's that."

Graham's grievance hearing is scheduled for June 17-18, when a neutral third-party arbitrator will hear arguments as to whether Graham should be considered a wide receiver instead, since he lined up for 67 percent of his snaps either in the slot or out wide last season. The one-year franchise-tag salary for tight ends and wide receivers is $7.035 million and $12.3 million, respectively.

That ruling could have a huge effect on the long-term contract negotiations between the Saints and Graham.

Asked if he feels like tight ends should be paid more like receivers, Davis said, "If you're a guy who's catching a lot of passes and you possess some of the traits that wide receivers have, then yes, I agree. I think that he should get paid like a wide receiver."

And when asked if he himself should be paid like a receiver, Davis said, "I can't speak for myself. I'll let everybody else do that."

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Drew Brees calls Jimmy Graham a 'hybrid' wideout/tight end

As we patiently await whether or not Jimmy Graham, tight end for the New Orleans Saint, will be ruled a tight end or a wide receiver in an upcoming arbitration hearing, the Saints march on in their preparation for the 2014 NFL season.

And while Drew Brees told CBS Sports Network's The Boomer and Carton Show he's focused on OTAs right now, he also added his two cents to the Graham argument, calling the star pass catcher a "hybrid."

"I would describe him as very important," Brees said. "The fact is he's really kind of a hybrid. He's really revolutionizing the position. There's probably an argument to be made [either way], that's why he's filing the grievance."

Brees understands Graham's position right now. He was there a few years ago before the Saints gave him a mammoth contract extension and reiterated on Monday he's "confident" the Saints and Graham will sort things out.

"I'm confident everything will get worked out with Jimmy at some point, hopefully sooner than later. It would be nice to have him in and have some time with him. But I also know how this goes," Brees said. "I kind of went through this two years ago. My advice to Jimmy is just hang in there, don't take it personal and stay in good shape and get ready to roll when you do get here. I'm excited about OTAs right now and seeing these young guys come together and how they can incorporate in our offense."

We'll stick with the same prediction we had before this whole drama began: the Saints will tag Graham (like they did Brees), take a stubborn approach through most of the offseason about paying him (like they did Brees) and eventually cave and hand him a lot of money right before deadline to negotiate with players who got tagged (like they did Brees).

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Jimmy Graham could receive $11M annually

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett expects franchise player Jimmy Graham to receive an extension worth between $10.5 million and $11 million annually.
Graham is sitting out OTAs and has a grievance hearing scheduled on June 17-18. He could earn an additional $5 million if he's declared a wide receiver, so there's incentive for the Saints to extend him in the next two weeks. Graham lined up in the slot or split wide on 67 percent of his 2013 snaps. The deadline for signing franchise-tagged players to long-term deals is July 15.

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Jimmy Graham absent at OTAs on Thursday, Goes Sailing Instead

One of the most notable absences during New Orleans Saints practice on Thursday wasn't much of a surprise. Tight end Jimmy Graham is currently in the middle of a simmering contract battle expected to last into the summer.

So it was no surprise that Graham was absent during the Saints' third practice of organized team activities on Thursday. The session was the first the media were allowed to watch.

Graham, who is currently under the franchise tag, is not under contract. He has been training on his own and hasn't been at any of the Saints' voluntary workouts.

While the Saints were practicing, Graham tweeted a picture of himself on a sailboat.

"Suns out Guns out," Graham tweeted.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who went through a contract battle himself in 2012, smiled and laughed when asked about the tweet.

"There's no doubt in my mind that a deal will get done at some point," Brees said. "It's part of the process and we've had conversations about that. I know that he'll be ready when it is time to come in. I'm not worried about Jimmy at this point. I'm confident he'll be just fine."

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Drew Brees said he understands Jimmy Graham's absence from OTAs

In 2012, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was involved in a contract dispute that dragged out through the offseason and into the summer. 
So he knows exactly what teammate Jimmy Graham is going through. 

Graham is currently involved in a contract dispute over whether he should be paid as a tight end or a wide receiver. Graham's camp contends he's earned wide receiver money, while the Saints will contend he is a tight end.

But it's likely anything will be resolved until mid-June, when a grievance hearing will be held that could bring the two sides one step closer to deciding that. 
Until then, Graham isn't participating in offseason training with the team. And Brees said he's just fine with that.

Brees, speaking during Ben Grubbs' charity softball game on Wednesday, said he didn't like holding out of OTAs, but understands sometimes its a necessary evil during contract negotiations.

"I didn't like having to miss," Brees said. "As you're going through it, you're thinking 'it should be much easier than this.' But it's part of the process. It's a leverage game and it's back and forth. The team has a job to do and the player has a job to do in regards to their contract. You just understand that's the way it is, and you live with it."

Brees said he regularly texts with Graham and smiled when he was asked if he thought Graham would be in shape if and when he shows up to team activities. 

"When he's here, I know he'll be ready to play," he said. "He'll be staying in good shape and all those things. I'm not worried about Jimmy Graham."

Brees said one of the most difficult part of contract negotiations are trying to keep emotions out of something that ultimately can become deeply personal for a player.

"I've been checking on him to make sure he's doing already and he's not getting frustrated or disappointed or taking things personal," he said. "It's easy to do that, especially as a young player. ...

"You're looking at your contributions to the team and 'Here I am, I was drafted in the third round and pretty much played for the minimum for the last four years and now this is my opportunity to get compensated.' It's what every young player hopes that they have the chance to go through or the opportunity to get, is that second contract."

If it were up to him, Brees said, Graham will be playing in the Saints colors until they're both retired.

"I know he wants to be a Saint for the rest of his career," he said. "I know I want him to be a Saint for the rest of my career and hopefully we can play five, six, seven more years together and go out champions together."

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Jimmy Graham could be on the next cover of Madden NFL video game

The next Madden NFL video game could feature a familiar face for Saints fans -- Jimmy Graham.

The Madden NFL cover vote is underway. Sixteen players are up for the chance to be on the cover of the next installment of the video game franchise.
In the second round of voting for the cover, Graham is up against Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Colin Kaepernick, LeSean McCoy, Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles and Richard Sherman.

Graham wouldn't be the first Saints player to be featured on the cover if he is selected. Drew Brees was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 11, following the Saints Super Bowl XLIV win.

It's not all happy thoughts for players to be on the cover. Certain players who appeared on video game box art have experienced a decline in performance, including Michael Vick after appearing on the 2003 cover, Ray Lewis appeared on the 2005 cover and Donovan McNabb, to name a few.

While it would be a fun sight to see a beloved Saints player on the cover, here's hoping EA Sports, the publisher of the game, will include some slam dunk celebrations for touch downs by Graham. Bent goal posts could be bonus points.

Want to cast your vote for Graham? Click this link to go to EA Sports Madden Cover Vote site on ESPN -- http://espn.go.com/nfl/feature/maddenvote.

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Brees says Jimmy Graham is staying in football shape

As Saints tight end* Jimmy Graham remains away from offseason workouts due to the small matter of, you know, not being under contract, the man who throws passes to Graham isn’t worried.

Appearing on Tuesday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Drew Brees expresses optimism regarding Graham’s ongoing readiness for football season.
“I just know that Jimmy Graham is staying ready to play football,” Brees told Erik Kuselias. “I know that when the time comes and he comes into the locker room he’s going to be in shape and ready to roll, whenever that is. We’re going to have time enough to get on the same page, obviously I hope that is more time than less time but at the end of the day we’ve had a lot of time together and so there’s a great rapport there, there’s a lot of trust and we’ll get back on the same page very quick.”

While it’s likely at this point that Graham will miss the entire offseason program, he’ll likely be in the fold by the start of training camp, since the deadline for signing a franchise player to a long-term deal arrives on July 15. After that, there’s no longer any reason to stay away.

Before that, an arbitrator will resolve the question of whether Graham should get paid like a receiver under the franchise tag, a question that has $5.2 million hanging in the balance.

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Jimmy Graham hearing on June 17-18

METAIRIE, La. -- We're one step closer to finding out whether the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham should officially be considered a tight end or wide receiver.

The grievance hearing over Graham's franchise-tag designation has been scheduled for June 17-18, according to a league source. It's unclear whether a third-party arbitrator has been selected.

At stake is how much the Saints will be required to pay Graham under the franchise tag. The NFL's management council declared Graham a tight end when he was franchised in early March, requiring the Saints to offer him a one-year salary of $7.035 million.

Graham, however, filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association last week asking to be declared a receiver -- a position that comes with a franchise-tag salary of $12.3 million.

More importantly, the arbitrator's decision would give one side a tremendous amount of leverage in their long-term contract negotiations.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis declined to answer specific questions about the pending debate over the weekend, but he did say the Saints' side of the argument will be handled by the management council.

"Obviously we get consulted and talked with," Loomis said. "But that's the management council's duty."

The players' association will present Graham's case. The sides will agree on the selection of the arbitrator.

Graham's argument will be that he should officially be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last season.

It's a compelling debate that has come up in recent years with hybrid tight end/receivers like Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley, but it has never reached the point of a grievance hearing.

Similarly, Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs filed a grievance in 2008 over whether he should be considered a linebacker or defensive end. Before an arbitrator ruled, all parties agreed to split the difference in the salaries.

It's possible the Saints and Graham work out a similar compromise. Or they could work out a long-term contract extension in the meantime and avoid the need for a hearing altogether.

The deadline for franchised players to sign long-term deals with their teams is July 15.

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Loomis says Jimmy Graham hearing is expected in about 30 days

The Jimmy Graham grievance hearing is expected to be heard by an arbiter in approximately 30 days, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis confirmed Saturday.

The crux of the issue is whether Graham should be considered a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes. Graham has been tendered as a tight end at $7.05 million for one year, even though he lined up outside or in the slot approximately 67 percent of his snaps, which the NFLPA argues would make him a wide receiver, according to the collective bargaining agreement. If Graham wins, his franchise-tag salary would increase to $12.3 million.

The NFL Management Council and NFL Players Association (which is representing Graham) will argue the merits of the case before an arbiter. Both sides can reach an agreement before the hearing date.

The winner of the hearing would gain significant leverage in future long-term contract negotiations.

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NFLPA files Jimmy Graham grievance

It took a little longer than anticipated, but New Orleans Saints star Jimmy Graham has filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association to challenge whether he should be considered a tight end or wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes.

The Saints placed the franchise tag on Graham in early March, and the NFL's management council ruled that he is a tight end, a position that has a mandatory tag salary of $7.05 million.

Graham, however, says he should be considered a receiver because he lined up for 67 percent of his snaps either out wide or in the slot in 2013. If he wins, his franchise-tag salary will vault to $12.3 million.

More importantly, the winner of this debate will gain significant leverage in long-term contract negotiations.

"We disagree, and the system exists for us to have the ability to file grievances in those cases," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said Wednesday. "And when we believe that there is a good basis to do so in order to protect our players, that's what this union does."

The next step in the process is for the players' association and the management council to agree on a neutral, third-party arbitrator. It's unclear how quickly the process will begin or when a hearing will be scheduled.

It's also unclear what motivated Graham to file the grievance at this time. But it could speed up negotiations between the Saints and Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, if both sides decide they want to reach an agreement before an arbitrator gets involved.

In past years, similar debates have sprung up with free-agent tight ends Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley and linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs. In each case, an agreement was reached before an arbitrator handed down a ruling.

The ultimate deadline hanging over Graham and the Saints is July 15. After that date, franchised players can sign one-year deals only.

That mid-July date served as the impetus for the Saints getting a deal done with their last franchise-tagged superstar, quarterback Drew Brees, in 2012. Owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis have speculated that Graham's deal could follow a similar timetable, although both continually express optimism that a deal will be reached.

Graham almost certainly would become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million per year the New England Patriots gave Rob Gronkowski two years ago. What remains to be seen is whether Graham's salary will approach the $12 million range, putting him in line with a top-five or top-10 receiver.

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Jimmy Graham draws comparison to LeBron

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees joined ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd on "The Herd" Thursday to discuss his thoughts on the Saints’ schedule and their offseason roster moves, among other topics.

Brees laughed when Cowherd asked him the popular offseason question about whether Jimmy Graham is a tight end or wide receiver. “I hate this question,” Brees said.

But the two wound up having an intriguing conversation about Graham’s unique skill set, and Brees said he loved Cowherd's comparison to NBA star LeBron James.

“Honestly, he’s a hybrid,” Brees said of Graham. “He’s revolutionizing that position. So he's kind of his own class.”

Brees was promoting a unique raffle he’s doing with Xbox to benefit his Brees Dream Foundation. Brees will fly anywhere in the continental United States to have dinner with the winner and 11 friends.

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Sean Payton not surprised by TE Graham's absence

So far, star tight end Jimmy Graham has skipped offseason workouts at Saints headquarters while his agent, Jimmy Sexton, and the Saints continue protracted negotiations over a long-term extension.

"I think it's pretty normal," Payton said.

The Saints have virtually locked Graham in for 2014 by placing a franchise tag worth $7.04 million on the 6-foot-7 tight end. However, Graham is seeking a long-term extension with pay commensurate to that of a top-tier receiver.

Last season, Graham led New Orleans in yards receiving with 1,215 and in touchdown catches with 16.

In 2012, quarterback Drew Brees held out until reaching a five-year, $100 million deal in early July, just weeks before training camp. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said during LSU's pro day this month that it would not be unreasonable to expect negotiations with Graham to follow a similar timeline, and that there is no immediate deadline.

"All of us would rather have things done sooner than later, but it doesn't always happen that way," Loomis said then. "Obviously we want to have Jimmy Graham on our team when training camp begins."

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Dolphins Express Interest In Another Future NFL proCane

According to a UM source, the Dolphins have expressed interest in highly-athletic 6-5 UM basketball player Erik Swoope --- who has never played Pop Warner, high school or college football --– in the wake of the Denver Broncos working him out last week.

The Broncos called UM coach Jim Larranaga to express interest, and “I was completely shocked,” Swoope told Yahoo.com. “That was the last thing I expected Coach L to tell me.” Besides Miami and Denver, the Kansas City Chiefs also have inquired.

The Broncos believe he can make the transition from a basketball forward to a football tight end, like former UM and New Orleans Saints standoutJimmy Graham has.

It will be interesting to see how many teams offer Swoope a free agent contract after the draft, presuming he goes undrafted. Swoope has not hired an agent but has declared himself for the NFL Draft, opting to do that instead of playing football for a season at UM while attending graduate school.

Swoope, who has talked about the transition with Graham, avaraged 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds last season, and Larranaga has conceded that he wishes he had played him more early in the season. He showed a knack for dazzling dunks and for leaping over taller players for rebounds.

The Dolphins had some interest in Graham in the 2010 draft, but Tony Sparano loved John Jerry and Bill Parcells --- after consulting with Sparano and his scouts --- decided Jerry would be a better choice than Graham at No. 73. The Saints took Graham 95th, and Miami has regretted that decision ever since.
Of course, Swoope isn't the prospect Graham was. But it's certainly worth exploring the possibilities.

Meanwhile, UM basketball player Raphael Akpejiori, 6-9, is attending football meetings, will attend camp in August and hopes to earn playing time at tight end. One UM person said he struggled catching passes on the side on the day he observed Akpejiori.

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Following in Jimmy Graham’s footsteps, two Miami hoop players turn to football

It’s becoming something of a Miami tradition for basketball players to suddenly take up football with hopes of becoming a star tight end.

Jimmy Graham did it and has gone on to become one of the best players in the NFL at his position as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Now two more Hurricanes are looking to follow in Graham’s footsteps.

Erik Swoope, an athletic 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward who averaged 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season, has decided to enter his name into the upcoming NFL draft – even though he’s never played organized football at either the high school or college levels.

“I’m excited to enter my name in the NFL Draft and pursue a professional football career,” he Tweeted on Tuesday.

At least one team appears to be taking Swoope’s bid seriously. The Denver Broncos gave him a private workout last week.

Like Swoope, Hurricanes teammate Raphael Akpejiori is also exploring the possibility of playing football. The 6-foot-9, 241-pound forward has announced his intention to play tight end for Miami’s football team as a graduate student next fall.

Akpejiori, a native of Nigeria, averaged 0.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in his final season of college basketball.

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Is Erik Swoope the next Jimmy Graham?

Miami’s Erik Swoope is following in the footsteps of a former Hurricane, Jimmy Graham. Swoope officially declared for May’s NFL draft Tuesday.

Erik Swoope @eswoope21 “I’m excited to enter my name in the NFL Draft and pursue a professional football career.”

The four most productive NFL tight ends in 2013 each have basketball backgrounds. The list doesn’t even include the Denver Broncos’ Julius Thomas, who played basketball at Portland State before turning to the gridiron his final year on campus.

As a forward for the Hurricanes, Swoope averaged 2.6 points during his career. Swoope’s time in Miami is defined by his athleticism, leadership and rim-rattling dunks.

At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Swoope is an impressive specimen, but he’ll need to add weight to play tight end in the NFL. Swoope lost 20 pounds prior to his senior season, according to Miami’s official website. If Swoope can play at 240 to 250 pounds, he’ll be more effective.

Swoope will inevitably be compared to Graham, because they came from the same school. However, the better comparison is to Antonio Gates. Swoope, like Gates, didn’t play football at the collegiate level. Swoope never even played football at the high school level. Whereas Graham, Thomas and the Cleveland Browns’ Jordan Cameron all played at least one season of college football before making the leap to the NFL.

But that doesn’t mean teams aren’t interested in Swoope. NFL teams now scout basketball programs for the types of talent that could possibly translate.

The Denver Broncos, for example, already struck gold with Thomas, and they may attempt to do so a second time who worked out Swoope last week.

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Loomis: No deadline for Graham deal

BATON ROUGE, La. -- New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis shot down the notion Wednesday that the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham will aim to strike a new deal by the middle of this month.

A report by Pro Football Talk last month cited a source as saying the two sides would try to reach a long-term contract agreement before the April 22 deadline for Graham to file a grievance over his franchise-tag designation. Graham was officially designated as a tight end, though it’s expected that Graham and agent Jimmy Sexton will file the grievance to argue that he should be considered a wide receiver based on where he lined up most often last season.

“Look, I’m always optimistic. But there’s no deadline here,” Loomis said when asked if that April 22 date was being used as a target.

Loomis, who spoke to the media while attending LSU’s pro day, declined to give any specific updates on how talks are developing with Graham. But he seemed to indicate that the pace hasn’t picked up much since the Saints first placed the franchise tag on Graham more than a month ago.

When asked for the most rational way for fans to look at the situation, Loomis cracked, “Well, when does training camp begin?”

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Loomis continued. “That’s a two-way street. You know, you guys [in the media] have been through this lots of times. I think all of us would rather have things done sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t always happen that way. So we’ll keep going, well keep at it in the process. Obviously we want to have Jimmy Graham on our team when training camp begins, and I am sure he wants to be with us.

“So we’ll just keep plugging away at the process. He’s got a great agent. And all his people, they know what they’re doing, and so do we. Hopefully we’ll come to a conclusion at some point.”

Saints owner Tom Benson gave a similar response during the NFL meetings last month when asked about the timetable for a new Graham deal, suggesting that he wouldn’t be surprised to see talks drag out like they did with franchised quarterback Drew Brees until July two years ago.

However, the potential grievance could throw a wrinkle into things.

If Graham does file a grievance, then his case would eventually be heard by a third-party arbitrator, who would be agreed upon by the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association. If that arbitrator agrees that Graham should be considered a wide receiver, his franchise-tag salary would soar from $7.05 million to $12.3 million.

That decision would give one side tremendous leverage in its long-term contract negotiations. So it remains possible that both the Saints and Graham’s camp would ultimately prefer to work out a deal on their own terms before it reaches the point of an arbitrator’s decision.

One way or another, Graham will almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing Rob Gronkowski’s $9 million average with the New England Patriots. The biggest question is whether Graham’s deal will be closer to $10 million per year or $12 million.

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Packers Annual Checkup: Sam Shields

Sam Shields, cornerback
Season stats: 15 games (902 snaps; 90.1 percent of total defensive snaps), 61 tackles, nine missed tackles, zero tackles for loss, zero sacks, four interceptions, zero forced fumbles, 16 passes defensed, 11 stops (solo tackles that resulted in offensive failure); targeted 84 times in coverage, allowing 42 receptions for 664 yards, four touchdowns

ProFootballFocus.com season rating: 0.4 (ranked No. 8 out of 26 Packers defensive players; ranked No. 52 in the NFL among qualifying cornerbacks)
Best game: Week 15 win at Dallas (played 74 of 74 snaps; one interception, three passes defensed, five tackles, one missed tackle, two stops; targeted 10 times in coverage, allowing four receptions for 67 yards; 2.9 PFF rating)

Worst game: Week 1 loss at San Francisco (played 79 of 81 snaps; zero interceptions, two passes defensed, nine tackles, one missed tackle, two stops; targeted 10 times in coverage, allowing five receptions for 116 yards, zero touchdowns; minus-2.0 PFF rating)

Expectations at the start of the season: Medium

Expectations were ...  Exceeded

Looking live: The Packers began offseason training activities in May 2013 without Sam Shields. Dissatisfied that Green Bay had only offered him a second-round restricted free agent tender (worth $2.023 million), Shields didn't show up at OTAs. "I wish Sam was here," coach Mike McCarthy said May 21. But in early June, after having already missed two weeks of practices and with no other great options available to him as mandatory minicamp approached, Shields signed the tender. On June 4, the usually quiet and reserved Shields was vocal about his negative feelings regarding the tender. "I wanted to get paid; it didn't happen," Shields said that day. "I didn't get what I wanted," he added. Shields again skipped out on OTA practices in mid-June. Shields was ranked No. 17 on FOXSportsWisconsin.com's pre-training camp "Most Important Packers in 2013" series. When training camp began, despite being unhappy with his contract status, Shields arrived with something to prove. "The thing I like about Sam, he's got that edge to him," McCarthy said. However, McCarthy added, "but he's rusty; I think that's expected." The rust wore off quickly though, as Shields was named one of Green Bay's starting cornerbacks before the end of training camp. But Shields, perhaps understandably for a player who went undrafted out of college, didn't use that starting nod to get too comfortable. "I'm not going to sit here and say this is my starting position," Shields said Aug. 21. "I've still got to grind each and every day."

Upon further review: Shields had been a good player for the first three years of his NFL career, but 2013 was a breakout season for him. He was tasked with defending many of the league's best wide receivers and performed well in most of those matchups, including against Detroit's Calvin Johnson in Week 13 and against Cincinnati's A.J. Green in Week 3. Wins by Shields against those two receivers is especially impressive given that he's six inches shorter than both Johnson and Green. Shields used to make up for other weaknesses in his game simply because he's so fast. But Shields was much more than just a speedster in 2013. His cover skills have evolved to a point where he does so many other things well that his speed is just a bonus. Before a hamstring injury took Shields out of the games in Weeks 11 and 12, he had gotten to a point where he was arguably the second-most important player on Green Bay's defense (behind Clay Matthews). Shields had a couple bumps in the road throughout the season and hasn't earned unanimous praise from national media and scouts yet, but certain plays are more important than others, and he had one of the Packers' biggest plays of the year. With Green Bay's season on the line, trailing the Cowboys on the road in Week 15 and Dallas inexplicably still throwing the ball despite being up by five points with less than three minutes to go, Shields fully extended his arms on a pass to Miles Austin across the middle of the field and snagged it for a season-saving interception.

Overall 2013 grade: B-plus

Status for 2014: One-hundred percent chance of being on the Packers' active roster to begin the 2014 regular season. There's no way that Shields can be dissatisfied with his contract any longer after signing a four-year, $39 million extension as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It's more money than Shields would have gotten a year earlier had he re-signed as a restricted free agent, and it should keep him in Green Bay through his 30th birthday. Shields is just entering the prime of his career and has been continually getting better every year. Though the Packers have a very good group of cornerbacks, Shields could be the leader of that group soon, especially if Tramon Williams departs after his contract expires next year. With the money that he's now owed, Shields had better be ready for multiple matchups every season with the great group of NFC North wide receivers.

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Jimmy Graham not happy with enforcement of dunk rule

It sounds like Saints All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham has no problem spending some of his money next year paying fines.

That’s because the NFL’s vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, told the “Dan Patrick Show” on Tuesday that the league will penalize any players who dunk the ball over the crossbar of the goalposts. Graham famously made it a tradition to perform that very celebration after each of his 44 career TD grabs (including the playoffs).

Upon hearing the news, he reacted defiantly, saying via Twitter: “I guess I’ll have to lead the @nfl in penalties next year! #funpolice.” He also attached a picture of himself elevating to dunk the ball over a crossbar at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — a superimposed image of a referee was positioned in front of him as if to block it.

More than 2,000 people retweeted Graham’s message and photo within 20 minutes of originally posting them. He later deleted the tweet but then re-sent it.

Banning dunks will not be a new rule, Blandino explained. Officials will just make it a point to enforce an existing regulation prohibiting the use of the ball as a prop for celebrations.

“Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that’s the goal post, the crossbar, that ... will be a foul next season,” Blandino told the Patrick show, according to NFL.com.

Graham knocked the crossbar and goalposts askew and caused a slight delay during a Saints win at Atlanta on Nov. 21. Few doubted Tuesday’s revelation was a direct consequence of that celebration.

It was the second time Graham had made the crossbar in that same end zone lean to one side after a dunk. He did the same thing on a two-handed jam following a 21-yard TD in 2011.

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Jimmy Graham likely to land long-term extension before grievance deadline

There were a number of issues at play when the New Orleans Saints slapped Jimmy Graham with the franchise tag at the beginning of this month.

At issue at the time was whether or not Graham would be designated as a tight end or wide receiver as far as how his franchise tag number would be calculated. Once he was determined to be a tight end for the purposes of that process, the next important deadline was April 22nd. Graham has until that day to file a grievance about the aforementioned tight end designation.

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the process will never reach that point. Florio reports that the Saints and Graham will come to an agreement on a long-term deal before Graham has a chance to file that grievance.

Per a league source, the current expectation is that the Saints and Graham will finalize a long-term contract before Graham pulls the pin on a grievance grenade.”

Though there are not many tight ends with the unique skill set of Graham, there is still an emerging trend in the NFL where teams use more and more of these hybrid type players at the position. In that sense he might not be the first player to deal with this type of situation. Luckily for him and the Saints, it sounds like there is a good chance Graham will land the long-term deal he desires before things have the chance to get ugly.

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Jimmy Graham's TD celebration in danger

Orlando, Fla. - The post-touchdown stunt show by New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham may eventually become no more.

There has been discussions to ban a player from dunking the football over the goalposts during the NFL owners meetings, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said Monday afternoon. McKay said there's no proposal on the table for these meetings and so no vote can occur to bar the touchdown celebration, but the committee will have further discussions later in the week.

McKay witnessed firsthand how a dunk on a goalpost could force a delay in a game.

McKay is the Falcons' president and CEO and watched as Graham's two-handed jam bent the goalpost in the Georgia Dome during the Saints' 17-13 win over Atlanta in Week 12 last season. Stadium work crew brought out a ladder to fix the goalposts forcing a small delay in the game.

Pro Football Talk first reported the possibility last weekend. Graham responded to the news via Twitter saying, "NOOOO!" after teammate Thomas Morstead referred to the potential rule change as "The Jimmy Graham rule."

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Saints' Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham: 'Be patient'

Drew Brees knows how Jimmy Graham is feeling, perhaps more than any player in the NFL. Two seasons ago, Brees and the New Orleans Saints had a protracted contract standoff after the Saints placed the franchise tag on him.

Brees didn't sign the tag, and wound up missing offseason work before the sides came to a long-term deal. Around The League sat down with Brees during his visit to NFL Network, and asked him what he's told Jimmy Graham about the process.

"I just told him be patient," Brees said. "Don't get frustrated. Don't take it personally. It's part of the deal and it's hard and ... you just want it to be over. You want certainty. That's the hardest part."

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Drew Brees confident Saints' Jimmy Graham 'will be ready' Week 1

ORLANDO — New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees says he has "no doubt" tight end and teammate Jimmy Graham will be on the field for Week 1, no matter how his franchise-tag fight plays out.

Running back Darren Sproles won't be there, though. And Brees made clear in an interview with two reporters Tuesday at the NFL Players Association's annual meetings that Sproles is one key part of the Saints offense they won't be able to replace.

"I think a Darren Sproles only comes around once in your lifetime, in my career and in everybody's career," Brees said of the quicksilver back, whom the Saints traded to the Philadelphia Eagles last week for a fifth-round draft pick.

"There may be another one 15, 20 years from now. But there's not many guys like Darren Sproles. He's a special player. He's a special person. He's a special teammate."

The Saints planned to cut Sproles, 30, if they couldn't deal him rather than pay his $3.4 million base salary this year on the heels of a 2013 season in which he had just 824 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.

They're clearing space in part because they need to re-sign Graham, 27, who is headed for either a lucrative contract extension or a grievance hearing on his claim the franchise tag should pay him like a wide receiver, not a tight end.

"Listen, I know Jimmy will be ready to play, whether that means he's coming in tomorrow, April 21st or August 21st," Brees added. "I know Jimmy Graham will be ready to play, and he'll be a big part of our offense and a big part of our team for a long time. I'm very confident that will work out."

Brees, 35, speaks from experience. He sat out all offseason practices in 2012 after getting the franchise tag, then signed a five-year, $100 million contract weeks before training camp began.

"Since I've been through it just two short years ago, you just know it's part of the process," Brees said. "You can't take any of that personal."

Nor can Brees take it personally the Saints cut ties with receiver Lance Moore and several members of the defense — cornerback Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper, linebackers Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma — that helped lead them to a Super Bowl win after the 2009 season.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins signed as a free agent with the Eagles, who gave Sproles a new three-year, $10.5 million contract with $5.5 million in guarantees soon after the trade.

Sproles "was one of the tougher ones for me, just because I was heavily recruiting him to New Orleans during the (2011) lockout," said Brees, who also played with Sproles for the San Diego Chargers in 2005.

"So I feel like that was my guy, that was my pick, and I wanted that to last forever. But unfortunately, it didn't last forever."

Only six players remain from the Saints' Super Bowl team: Brees, offensive linemen Jahri Evans and Zach Strief, punter Thomas Morstead, running back Pierre Thomas and receiver Marques Colston.

"It's tough, because a lot of those guys I've played with for eight years," Brees said. "Eight years, which is rare. I'd say that's very rare in this day and age, to have that amount of time with a group of guys.

"You become very connected during that time, so it's always hard when you get to this point. It's going to be a new team in a lot of ways, a lot of young guys stepping up into roles that maybe they haven't been in before and it's where the new leaders emerge."

The Saints also made one bold move in free agency, signing safety Jairus Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract that included $26.3 million in guarantees. In a salary cap league, deals like that often can't happen without trimming some veteran fat.

"Unfortunately, that's part of this game," Brees said. "That's the business of football. Sometimes, you love it and sometimes you hate it."

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Jimmy Graham 'shocked and disappointed' at Saints

It's been a tough offseason for New Orleans Saints fans. They've had to say goodbye to Super Bowl heroes like Lance Moore, Will Smith, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma. They learned Friday that Darren Sproles is out too.

It's been a tough offseason for one of their best players, too:

“Wow unbelievable. Shocked and disappointed on everything that's gone on this offseason.”

Graham, of course, has his own issues with the team. He's trying to negotiate a long-term contract, and isn't happy that he was given the franchise tag at the tight end position. (His agent will argue he deserves to be paid like a wide receiver.)

Graham also might be feeling a bit guilty. He knows that some of his good friends were cut, in part, in order to free up salary cap room so that they could pay Graham.

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Packers official laughs off run at Jimmy Graham

When the New Orleans Saints used their franchise tag on Jimmy Graham, it seemed to ensure the star tight end would be catching passes from Drew Brees for at least another season.

Yes, the tag's nonexclusive nature allows other teams to bid for Graham's talent in free agency. But the cost would be absurd -- two first-round draft picks in addition to a contract rich enough to scare off the Saints.

It's hard to imagine a team willing to gamble on its future for the reward of a tight end, but perhaps Graham is special enough to warrant an exception.

"I think the only players more valuable than Jimmy Graham are three or four quarterbacks," one AFC general manager told Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. "That's it."

According to Freeman, "word is beginning to leak" throughout the NFL that at least one team will make a play at obtaining Graham, pricetag be damned.

The Green Bay Packers -- who are very realistically in the market for a tight end -- are unlikely to emerge as a potential suitor. A Packers official told Freeman the idea of giving up that much for a tight end was "dumb, beyond dumb ... won't happen."

You have to think the Packers are far from alone in that sentiment, regardless of how productive Graham has been in his brief career. Still, the Saints have left the door open a crack.

Now we get to find out if there's a team with the guts to barge in.

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Packers might be wise to make an offer to Jimmy Graham

The NFL franchise tag may as well be a ball and chain for prospective free agents who receive it. After all, most teams are unwilling to pitch them proposals knowing it will cost two first-round draft picks if the club that owns the tagged player’s rights refuses to match an offer sheet.

Might Jimmy Graham be a rare exception to the rule?

The New Orleans Saints have franchised the all-pro tight end, who is the primary target of Drew Brees’ and Sean Payton’s aerial circus. In all likelihood, a deal will eventually get done to keep Graham in The Big Easy, though probably not before he and the front office go through a seemingly unnecessary spat as to whether his tag should carry the tight end value ($7.1 million) or more lucrative wide receiver figure ($12.1 million) since Graham spends much of his time split wide.

But while the impasse lingers in New Orleans, other teams are surely considering whether it makes sense to pursue a player who led the NFL with 16 TD grabs in 2013 and might be the league’s premier mismatch player.

There may be one club perfectly positioned to make a run at Graham — the Green Bay Packers.

Here’s why:

1) With Jermichael Finley headed to free agency and his medical prognosis uncertain anyway, Green Bay has a need at the position. No. 3 wideout James Jones is also probably on the way out a year after Greg Jennings defected. QB Aaron Rodgers’ once vast array of aerial weapons seems to be dwindling.

2) GM Ted Thompson has the ability to pay Graham. Though he generally loathes bringing in outside players, Thompson seems open to it this year as he sits on more than $30 million in cap space. That’s probably enough to extend WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, buy a few parts for the defensive line and still make Graham an offer in the six-year, $70 million range to make him the league’s best-paid tight end. (The six-year extension Rob Gronkowski signed in 2012 averages $9 million per season, the current benchmark at the position.)

3) Thompson has earned enough goodwill — including a title in 2010 — and proven a savvy enough talent evaluator that he can probably sell the move to his fan base. Rodgers is in the prime of his career and having a weapon like Graham would theoretically make the offense even more explosive. Thompson can easily brand Graham as Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2014, a trade most teams would gladly take, he just has to be comfortable giving away that second Round 1 pick in 2015 — which will probably be a low first rounder anyway given the Packers’ track record – for a roster that boasts a nucleus as good as any organization’s. Locking up the tight end for a half-dozen years or so would also provide more security than a four- or five-year rookie contract.
Graham would cost a lot of cheese, but he’s the rare non-quarterback who could be worth it.

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Loomis ‘sure’ Saints can reach deal with Graham

Rain and cold may have ruined the Mardi Gras of Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, but the fear of not being able to reach a long-term deal with tight end Jimmy Graham had no effect on his day.

Loomis, speaking on the SiriusXM Blitz with Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon, said he thinks New Orleans can reach an agreement with Graham to keep him with the Saints for a long time.

“The negotiations are in the process, and Jimmy has been a great player for us for the last four years,” Loomis said.

“Look, I had hoped, and I’m sure he had hoped, that we would come to some conclusion on a longer-term deal before this, but we haven’t yet, and hopefully we will.”

Graham, who had 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, received a nonexclusive franchise tag from the Saints last weekend. The nonexclusive tag gives him the freedom to negotiate with other teams, but a team must give the Saints two first-round picks if they sign him.

A point of contention between Graham and the Saints since the end of last season was how to classify his position in terms of a new deal, because there is a huge difference in pay for a player who is classified as a tight end as opposed to player who is classified as a receiver.

The NFL Management Council concluded Monday that Graham was to be classified as a tight end and set his salary at $7.053 million for next season with the franchise tag. If Graham were classified as a receiver, his salary would have been set for $12.132 million for next season.

Loomis isn’t sure that happens next in regards to the position classification of Graham.

“We haven't been through this process of that before,” Loomis said. “Look, all we do is franchise him, and then it’s out of our hands.”

According to NFL rules, Graham and the Saints have a deadline of July 15 to work out a new contract. If Graham and the Saints don’t reach a new deal by then, he can play under the franchise tag for 2014 or sit out.

The last day for Graham to sign a franchise tender is Nov. 11.

“I don’t really like to speculate about ‘Hey, what’s going to happen a month from now or three months from now or longer than that,’ ” Loomis said. “I think this: This is a process. A lot of teams have been through it. A lot of players have been through it. And it’s going to be, obviously, unique to Jimmy and us in terms of this particular one. But we’ll just let it play out, and I’m sure we’ll get something resolved.”

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Jimmy Graham to join USO Tour

NEW YORK — All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Pierre Garcon and punter Brandon Fields will join a USO tour of U.S. military bases in Asia.

The Saints’ Graham, Redskins’ Garcon and Dolphins’ Fields will spend one week as league ambassadors to the troops. It’s the first such tour for all three players.

The NFL and USO have combined on such visits for 48 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia.

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NFL sets Saints TE Jimmy Graham's franchise tag at $7.05M

The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.

The designation was released Monday after the deadline passed for NFL teams to use franchise or transition tags on players becoming free agents.

Because Graham often split out from the offensive line as a receiver would, there have been questions concerning whether the NFL's collective bargaining agreement calls for Graham to have a receiver's tag, worth $12.1 million. Graham still could file a grievance, leaving an arbitrator to decide which tag is appropriate.

Graham caught a team-leading 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

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Jimmy Graham gets franchise tag

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints have placed their franchise tag on Jimmy Graham in order to protect the club's rights to its star tight end through next season.

The move means Graham, barring a holdout, likely will play for New Orleans next season for no less than the tight end franchise tag of $7.04 million.

It is also possible, under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, that Graham could be tagged as a receiver because of how often he lined up at that spot. That would carry a tag of $12.3 million.

The Saints used their non-exclusive franchise tag on Graham, leagues sources told ESPN, meaning he can sign with another team willing to surrender two first-round draft picks as compensation to New Orleans.

Under the non-exclusive tag. the Saints would have a right of first refusal, allowing them match any offer sheet and retain Graham for the specific amount by the signing team.

The move, confirmed by team spokesman Greg Bensel, was expected as the two sides attempt to work out a long-term deal.

Graham also weighed in on his Twitter account.

“Confirming it's officially Franchisefriday... TAG ... I guess I'm it...”

Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, likely will file a grievance through the players' association, asking that Graham be considered a receiver because he lined up out wide or in the slot on 67 percent of his snaps last season.

It's a significant distinction, and a favorable ruling would give one side serious leverage in long-term contract negotiations.

The Saints are adamant that Graham is a tight end. As general manager Mickey Loomis said recently, "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end."

Graham's camp would counter that the league's collective bargaining agreement specifically states the franchise tag designation is based on the position "at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year."

A neutral third-party arbitrator would be agreed upon by the NFLPA and the league's management council to hear arguments.

Graham, a third-round draft choice in 2010, has quickly emerged as one of the most prolific tight ends in the league. During his four-year Saints career, he has 301 receptions for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns -- including a league-high 16 touchdown catches last season.

At some point, Graham will almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million average salary of New England's 2012 contract extension with Rob Gronkowski. However, Graham's side may seek well more than $10 million per year, a total that would be more in line with what wide receivers who put up similar stats are paid

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Jimmy Graham demanding 12 million per season?

Fox Football Daily is suggesting Jimmy Graham is demanding $12 million per year salary.

@LarryHolder: RT @FFD: Jimmy Graham and the Saints remain several million dollars per season apart according to @MikeGarafolo.

@LarryHolder: RT @FFD: According to Mike's sources, the Saints are willing to make Graham the highest paid TE in the NFL. Graham wants roughly $12mil per yr.

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Saints, Jimmy Graham remain 'several millions apart' in contract talks

The New Orleans Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham appear to have made little to no headway on contract talks with the franchise tag deadline looming March 3.

The two sides are several millions of dollars apart in contract talks, according to Fox Sports. The Saints are willing to make Graham the highest paid tight end in the NFL, but Graham is looking for roughly $12 million per season, according to the report.

This tussle should come as no surprise and coincides with the argument of whether Graham should be paid like a tight end or a wide receiver. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reported several months ago the Saints slid over multiple contract offers to Graham to no avail.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been staunch in his stance that the team will place the franchise tag on Graham as a tight end if there's no long-term deal by the deadline. NFL Network reported Graham's camp, led by agent Jimmy Sexton, will file an immediate grievance claiming Graham should be tagged as a wide receiver based on the percentage of snaps Graham has received in a wide receiver role.

The franchise tag figures for a tight end and wide receiver aren't concrete yet as the NFL has yet to set the 2014 salary cap, but the difference between being dubbed a tight end or wide receiver could vary by about $4.5 million in favor of a wide receiver.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski set the tight-end barometer when he signed a six-year extension two years ago with the deal reportedly maxing out at $54 million.

"That's not for me to decide," Graham said nearly two weeks ago when asked if he should be considered a wide receiver or a tight end. "I'm going to do, and I'm going to play, whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple."

When asked where he stood on his contract talks with the Saints, Graham said at the time, "For me, I'm just standing. I take everyday one day at a time. I'm just going to wait and see what happens because that's where it's at."

From the looks of negotiations, the Saints and the 2013 NFL touchdown reception leader aren't standing too close together with less than a week left before the tag deadline.

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Jimmy Graham debate tough to predict

METAIRIE, La. -- We’re now one week away from the deadline for NFL teams to place the franchise tag on players. So sometime between now and March 3, the great debate over whether the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham should be considered a tight end or wide receiver will officially kick off.

I checked in recently with NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt -- a former executive with the Green Bay Packers and a former agent -- to see if he had any inkling how that debate might play out. Like most everyone else on the subject, Brandt said it’s too hard to predict what an arbitrator might rule.

“It’s new to me, too,” said Brandt, who pointed out that his former team had a similar case after he left with tight end Jermichael Finley in 2012 -- and they agreed to a meet-in-the-middle compromise before their debate reached an arbitrator.

Brandt said he could understand the argument for calling Graham a receiver by strictly reading the language of the collective bargaining agreement, which says the franchise tag designation is based on the position “at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.” Graham lined up 33 percent of the time against the line last year, 45 percent of the time in the slot and 22 percent of the time out wide.

But Brandt said he also believes the Saints have a strong argument that Graham's versatile role matches the modern job description of a tight end.

“It’s more about the definition of the tight end in 2013 than where he lines up on every play,” Brandt said. “So that’s gonna be interesting.”

If Graham is considered a tight end, the Saints can maintain his rights by offering him a one-year franchise-tag salary that is projected to be around $6.8 million this year. However, Graham’s camp is expected to file a grievance through the NFL Players Association, asking a third-party arbitrator to rule that he should be considered a wide receiver instead. That would require a one-year franchise-tag salary of around $11.6 million.

That's a significant difference. But Brandt said the bigger issue is how the franchise tag will affect the negotiations on a long-term contract.

“Listen, the way I see this whole thing is the tag number is a temporary dispute. The real issue here is the long-term deal,” Brandt said. “And when you negotiate a long-term deal, like any negotiation, you come up with comparables. To me the bigger issue here is not the tag, but when they are negotiating, are they using (the contracts of tight ends) Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates? Or are they using (receivers) like Larry Fitzgerald and Percy Harvin? That’s the question I have. I think the tag issue is kind of a red herring issue.”

Gronkowski is the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, with an average salary of $9 million per year -- ahead of guys like Jason Witten, Davis and Gates, who earn a little more than $7 million per year. Conversely, the NFL’s four highest-paid receivers (including Fitzgerald and Harvin) earn at least $12 million per year.

Brandt said a favorable ruling on the franchise tag would certainly give one side a great deal of leverage in the long-term negotiations.

Either way, though, Brandt believes the franchise tag itself is a great leverage tool for all NFL teams.

“I think the franchise tag, even at the high level, is an incredible management weapon,” Brandt said. “It takes your best free agent off the market. And you get to June or July and guys looking at a one-year deal or whatever you want to offer long term. People look at the franchise tag as just about holding a guy for a year. I think the bigger issue is giving you leverage in negotiations.”

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Drew Brees tries to smooth over Saints-Jimmy Graham riff on Twitter

Now that Super Bowl week has passed, Drew Brees doesn’t have a desk to jump on and profess his love for Jimmy Graham. In its stead, he has taken to Twitter to help smooth over the whole Saints-Graham-franchise tag mess going down in NOLA.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, here’s a cliff notes version: the Saints are expected to put a franchise tag on Graham in order to negotiate a longterm contract. Though his official position is tight end, Graham wants to be franchised as a wide receiver. He would make roughly $6.8M for one year under the tight end designation; $11.6M as a receiver. The argument being that Graham is the team’s best receiving option, thus he should be paid more.

Brees comes in because he makes a boatload of money ($11M in 2014; $19M in 2015; $20M in 2016), which hamstrings the Saints from signing other star players (Graham) to lucrative deals. However, Graham is Brees’ best weapon, and the QB needs his big target.

So how do you cut through all the lawyers, contracts, negotiations and egos: by posting well-intentioned, kinda weird recruiting messages on Twitter, of course.

.@TheJimmyGraham looking shredded ..On 3/9/06..beat Clemson 66-63 in the ACC Tournament pic.twitter.com/XOjsyAc0zZ” My guy JG rockin dbl zeros!
— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) February 19, 2014

“@TheJimmyGraham: Out the house stretch my legs. @Yoloboard pic.twitter.com/VmEZy5DVkF” look forward 2 paddling w u in Nola this offseason JG!
— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) February 19, 2014

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Jimmy Graham: ‘I’m A Football Player’

Last week, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham helped kick off NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans at an adidas NBA All-Star Charity Event in the French Quarter, hanging out with and signing autographs for 30 kids from the local Kingsley House. After finishing up with the kids, we grabbed Graham to ask him briefly about his contract situation.

Graham, the top free agent in the league this offseason, is likely to be franchise-tagged by the Saints—the only question is whether he’ll be tagged as a wide receiver or a tight end. The franchise tag essentially pays a player the average of the top few salaries across the NFL at his position, meaning that if Graham is tagged as a tight end, he’ll make considerably less money in 2014 than he would if he were labeled a wide receiver. And, for a guy that lines up out wide even more than he does inside, he might feel like he’s owed those extra millions.

In fact, it was even reported that his camp is ready to file a grievance if he’s franchised as a tight end. On the subject of how he reacts to speculation about WR vs. TE, and what’s going to happen with his franchise tag and his contract, Graham told us simply:

“As far as that goes, I don’t pay attention to what people call it. I play and I get lined up, and I do what I’m told. I’m a football player, who’s going to go out there and make a play and try to help us win.”

Beyond that, Graham said only that he’ll have to wait and see how things play out. Meanwhile, he’s prepping for a March 1 USO trip to Afghanistan to show love to the troops, and looking forward to flying—yes, he’s a licensed pilot—daily around Florida and the East coast when he gets back. Graham says he only watched a little bit of Super Bowl XLVIII, admitting that it was tough to watch the Seahawks triumph.

“It’s tough to watch any football game when you’re not in it,” he said. “They’re a very good team, they have amazing players. What they’ve been able to do with that team out there, and stack all those good players, is pretty special. A lot of teams are going to patent what they’re doing after that. The game was over fairly quickly in that one.”

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Jimmy Graham wide receiver? Free agent plans on filing grievance if Saints franchise tag him as tight end

The New Orleans Saints are likely hoping they'll be able to count Jimmy Graham as a member of the team next season, but if Graham has it his way it will cost the franchise far more money.

Graham is expected to receive the franchise tag from the Saints, which would pay him the average salary among the top five players at his position. Graham is nominally a tight end, which would mean New Orleans owes him $7.9 million. Graham, however, is making noise about wanting to be franchise tagged as a wide receiver, which would pay him about $16.8 million.

Any fantasy football player will say that Graham is a tight end, but franchise tags are decided on what percentage of plays an individual player lined up at a position. This would make Graham's case as a wide receiver rather strong; he lined up as a wide receiver on 67 percent of his snaps and caught 68 passes in that role.

NFL.com's Ian Rappaport tweeted the following message regarding the subject: "No progress yet for Jimmy Graham and #Saints. If, as expected, he's tagged as a TE, expect an immediate grievance to be tagged as a WR."

The issue could mean a great deal for the Saints, who don't necessarily have the greatest salary cap situation in the league; in fact Overthecap.com projects them to currently be at $12 million over the salary cap without either of Graham's franchise numbers counting towards the estimation.

Aside from quarterback Drew Brees, Graham is the most important player on the team. His size, speed and catching ability set him apart from just about all other receiving options in the NFL, and his ability to line up on the line of scrimmage or out wide make the Saints offense nearly impossible to game plan for.

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Jimmy Graham not worried about Saints contract talks

The New Orleans Saints parted ways with four veterans this week in part to prep for the inevitable signing -- or franchise tagging -- of Jimmy Graham.

The tight end isn't fretting about when a contract will get finished.

"For me, I'm just standing," he told The Times-Picayune when asked where he stands on negotiations. "I take every day one day at a time. I'm just going to wait and see what happens because that's where it's at."

The Saints cut corner Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper and defensive end/linebacker Will Smith on Wednesday, and announced that they would not re-sign linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Those moves saved the Saints around $16 million, but more cuts are likely.

How far under the cap New Orleans must get to re-sign Graham remains a question mark. If it comes down to a franchise tag, the contention about whether the 27-year-old is designated as a tight end or a wide receiver will be important.

"That's not for me to decide," Graham said at a charity event Thursday. "I'm going to do, and I'm going to play, whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple."
Graham will not leave New Orleans, that much is clear. However, we're just getting started down the bumpy road that ends in a contract being signed.

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Jimmy Graham reportedly wants top-5 WR money

Jimmy Graham is looking to get paid, and that’s bad news for the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints and Graham could end up in a standoff this offseason because Graham is looking for a long-term contract from the team. New Orleans has already said that they will franchise tag Graham if the two sides are unable to agree on a deal. Graham has said he is not keen on the idea of the team tagging him.

One major dispute that could arise if the franchise tag becomes a real possibility is whether Graham is categorized as a wide receiver or tight end. The best wide receivers are paid more money than the best tight ends in the league — the difference in value of a franchise tag for a wide receiver and tight end last year was $4.5 million. Even though he was drafted as a tight end and is listed as a tight end, Graham lined up as a traditional tight end last year just one third of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. Graham was split out frequently as a wide receiver and reportedly will try to make the argument that he should be paid as a receiver.

According to NFL reporter Jason Cole and former sports agent Joel Corry, Graham wants top-five wide receiver money.

If Graham’s camp holds firm on that stance, there could be a huge dispute between the two sides. The Saints are already over the salary cap, so paying Graham an extra $4 million on the franchise tag would be a big deal.

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What happens if Jimmy Graham fights TE tag?

METAIRIE, La. -- This much we know: If the New Orleans Saints and free agent Jimmy Graham don't reach a long-term agreement in the next three weeks, then the Saints will use the franchise tag on him. And that will almost certainly set off a groundbreaking battle over whether Graham should officially be considered a tight end or receiver.

But who will win that battle? That's anyone's guess.

Count longtime former NFL general manager Bill Polian among the many observers who consider this debate too close to call.

"That would be an arbitrator's decision, and I wouldn't have any idea what he would decide," said Polian, who now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Polian, however, does think it could serve as an incentive for both sides to find common ground before it ultimately reaches a hearing date.

"In the end, you'd obviously like to reach an agreement without setting a precedent," Polian said. "There's an old saying that when you put an issue in hands of a third party, then there's a possibility that neither side is happy with the result."

Here's how the process would work: If the Saints franchise Graham as a tight end, he and agent Jimmy Sexton could then file a grievance through the NFL Players Association, claiming that Graham should be considered a wide receiver instead. Then the decision would be in the hands of a neutral third-party arbitrator agreed upon by the NFLPA and the NFL Management Council.

Obviously a lot would be riding on the arbitrator's decision. The difference in a one-year franchise tender between tight ends and receivers this year is projected to be around $6.7 million vs. $11.5 million (though it hasn't been finalized yet).

More importantly, the ruling will give one side much greater leverage in the long-term contract negotiations.

As Polian said, there are two reasonable schools of thought the arbitrator would have to weigh:

1. The union will argue that it's a "black and white" issue, that Graham lined up in the slot or out wide for 67 percent of his snaps last season. And according to the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, the franchise tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

2. The Saints' counter-argument would be that it's part of the modern tight end's job description to line up in a variety of positions, including on the line, in the slot and out wide. Although Polian said Graham isn't a "traditional tight end," he said most teams now differentiate between blocking tight ends and receiving tight ends.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Graham was one of 11 tight ends in the NFL last year who lined up more than 50 percent of the time at those traditional receiver positions. Only three of them were full-time starters. But the other two were Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez (67 percent) and San Diego's Antonio Gates (52 percent) -- which is noteworthy since those two players have always been considered as tight ends for the purposes of determining franchise-tag salaries.

Other starting tight ends who blur the line between tight and receiver include Tampa Bay's Timothy Wright (49 percent), Cleveland's Jordan Cameron (49 percent), Carolina's Greg Olsen (48 percent), Green Bay's Jermichael Finley (47 percent), St. Louis' Jared Cook (47 percent), New England Rob Gronkowski (47 percent), Chicago's Martellus Bennett (46 percent) and Indianapolis Coby Fleener (46 percent).

In recent years, free agent tight ends Finley and Cook threatened to fight the same battle -- but they ultimately weren't franchised.

In 2008, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs filed a grievance to be considered as a defensive end. But before an arbitrator ruled, all parties made an agreement to split the difference between the two salaries and consider him a defensive end-linebacker. However, the language in that deal made it clear that it pertained only to Suggs and not to any future issues.

Polian didn't offer an opinion on whether the Saints should try to avoid letting this case reach an arbitrator. He said each team and each case is different. And he said the NFL Management Council would also weigh in with counsel on what the legal issues are, what precedents might be relevant, etc.

Polian added that a looming hearing could put pressure on both sides to get a deal done – like with any labor negotiation.

But that will be easier said than done in this case. The only thing harder than determining Graham's official position will be settling in on his fair market value.

Graham, who has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns over the past three years, is expected to become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million per year the New England Patriots gave Gronkowski in an extension two years ago. However, Graham could push for more than $10 million per year, more in line with what top receivers make -- especially if he wins the franchise-tag battle.

One way or another, these two sides should make history at some point this offseason.

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Jimmy Graham’s franchise-tag designation pits practicality against letter of CBA

Soon, the Saints will apply the franchise tag to tight end Jimmy Graham.  Soon after that, Graham will file a grievance, claiming that he’s actually a receiver.
And he has roughly 4.5 million reasons to make that argument.

Already, folks are chiming in on whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver.

During Super Bowl week, quarterback Drew Brees provided an answer that (in fairness to Drew) didn’t take into account the $4.5 million swing that applies if Graham is a tight end or a receiver for franchise-tag purposes.  Today, Peter King of TheMMQB.com argues aggressively that Graham is a tight end for purposes of the tag.

“I think Jimmy Graham is a tight end, regardless of where he lines up on the field,” King writes. “It’s ludicrous there’s even a discussion about whether Graham should be tendered as a tight end (at a franchise number of $6.8 million) or wide receiver (at $11.6 million).”

Peter, to borrow one of your favorite phrases, you’re wrong.  And here’s why.

The CBA is why.  Specifically, article 10, Section 2(a)(i) is why.

The labor deal requires that the franchise player be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.”

So it’s not “ludicrous” that there’s a discussion, because Graham lined up tight to the tackle only one third of the time in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.  It’s also not ludicrous because the Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley started down this road in 2012, with the Packers ultimately unwilling to roll the dice in the grievance process, instead striking a two-year deal with Finley while the challenge to his designation as a tight end was pending.  If the argument was ludicrous, the Packers surely would have held firm.

It’s likewise not ludicrous because the Titans opted not to even tag tight end Jared Cook last year, for fear that:  (1) he’d file a grievance; (2) he’d opt to not settle it; (3) he’d win; and (4) the Titans would be stuck paying him an eight-figure salary for 2013.

King’s ultimate argument isn’t ludicrous.  The modern tight end position entails moving the player around.  A tight end who lines up only a third of the time as a tight end is still a tight end, because receivers almost never line up as tight ends.  That’s the argument the Saints should make after Graham files a grievance.
Still, the CBA says what it says.

Is it ludicrous that the CBA doesn’t separate tackles, guards, and centers into separate categories, forcing any team that wants to tag a center or guard to pay him like an elite left tackle?  Yep.  But the CBA has one category for offensive linemen, and as a result centers and guards rarely if ever get tagged.

“It’s going to be a sad day for football if head coaches like Sean Payton have to consider when they formulate a game plan, ‘Well, I can’t flex Graham out too often, or he’ll be considered a wide receiver,’” King writes.  “Just a stupid, stupid can of worms that has been opened up.”

That can of worms was opened at least two years ago with Finley.  Unless and until a team successfully persuades a third party that tight ends are still tight ends even if they take more than half the snaps as receivers, the worms will be crawling all over the place, in plain sight.

That’s not ludicrous.  It’s one of the realities of the NFL.  Until a team fights the battle and wins it, tight ends who spend more than half their time lining up as something other than a tight end will have a non-ludicrous argument that, for the purposes of the franchise tag, they aren’t really tight ends.

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Brees says Jimmy Graham is a tight end, not a receiver

Vikings tight end Chase Ford grew up in a small southeast Texas town. His favorite Christmas present shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Corrigan native received a .410 shotgun when he was 6 years old. Ford spent the day shooting cans. Later in his life, he downed his first deer with that gun.

“Brings back memories,” Ford said with a chuckle.

He rarely finds enough time to enjoy one of his favorite hobbies lately, which has actually been a good thing. Ford bounced around on three practice squads before making his first appearance on an active roster this season, and he is hoping Sunday’s season finale against the Lions won’t be his last.

Ford hasn’t started, but he has appeared in eight games, making six receptions for 90 yards. With Rhett Ellison injured in Week 8, Ford was signed to the active roster and activated against the Packers. He didn’t play, got cut and was signed back to the practice squad.

An eventful first taste of an NFL Sunday in pads.

“They always say you got to be prepared to leave when you come into this game,” Ford said. “That’s just the mindset I hold.”

Ellison was scratched again, so Ford was brought back up the next week. This time he would get a chance to play against his favorite childhood team, the Cowboys. He spent a week on Dallas’ practice squad after he was dropped from the Eagles’ practice squad.

The Vikings trailed Dallas 20-17 with less than six minutes in the fourth when Adrian Peterson scored a go-ahead touchdown on an 11-yard run. He had four defenders surrounding him after picking up a first down on fourth and inches and nearly stumbled short of the goal line, but Ford kept Peterson on his feet and pushed him in.

“I blocked my guy but he kind of got off,” said Ford, who was initially brought in as a pass-receiving tight end but has improved his blocking during the season. “I was running to try and make sure he didn’t make the play and it fell in my lap, literally.”

Two of Ford’s six catches came two weeks ago in a victory over the Eagles, with one changing the outcome of the game — a 37-yard connection from Matt Cassel on third-and-14 early in the fourth quarter after the Eagles had pulled to within 27-22.

“Just to think, we came out of training camp and we weren’t even sure that he would make our football team and ends up on the practice squad,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “… He is a hard-working guy and he has come up with some big plays for us. Evidenced by the third-and-14 we had [against the Eagles], Hard work does pay off.”

He made his previous catch on the team’s first drive and said he felt before the play he was ready to grab another pass and move the sticks. Ford eluded a tackle and stiff-armed a defender before he was wrestled 5 yards short of his first career touchdown.

“I got to finish that, right?” Ford said. “I came pretty close to scoring. But we scored a touchdown. If we didn’t score a touchdown my feelings probably would’ve been hurt.”

On Sunday, Ford will have one final chance this season to grab his first career touchdown pass. The franchise will say goodbye to the Metrodome, in one of three games Sunday without any playoff implications. But for Ford, who is signed through 2014, he is not sure what will happen to him in the offseason.

The Vikings have three tight ends, with Kyle Rudolph (foot) and John Carlson (concussion) on injured reserve, along with Ellison. Carlson’s health concerns could open up a roster spot for Ford, but he is content with whatever outcome occurs.

“If Minnesota feels that they’re good with the three tight ends they’ve got now and say they don’t want to keep me on the active roster, that’s fine because I’ve got tape for other teams to see that so other teams can pick me up,” Ford said.

Ford plans to make a trip back home in the offseason to pick up his hobby again. While he chases ducks and deer with his father and uncle, Ford hopes he won’t have to hunt for a job in the spring. He is prepared to return for organized team activities and build off the work he has put in just to make the active roster.

“You grow up playing football in the back yard and being from a small Texas town, you don’t make it out of there,” Ford said. “You’re living out your childhood dream. It really motivates you to not give up, and play hard every game.

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Jimmy Graham 'not too keen' on being franchise tagged

Jimmy Graham is the Saints' best weapon on offense. He's also heading towards free agency.

New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis said the team would use a franchise tag on the explosive tight end if the two sides don't agree to a long-term deal.

For his part, Graham doesn't seem enthused about the idea.

"I'm not too keen on the franchise tag," Graham said at Pro Bowl practice in Hawaii. "That would be really unfortunate, but that's really all I have to say about that. That's real unfortunate. If that happens, it doesn't really matter what I prefer.”

Graham played just one-third of his snaps at the tight end position, so his side will argue he should be tagged as a wide receiver. Loomis and the Saints will maintain he should be tagged at the position for which he was drafted. The salary last year for receivers who were franchise tagged was $4 million more than tight ends.

Since being drafted out of Miami in 2010, Graham has 3,863 yards receiving and 41 touchdowns.

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Jimmy Graham to get tag if no long-term deal

Saints GM Mickey Loomis confirmed impending free agent Jimmy Graham will be franchise-tagged if the two sides can't agree to a long-term contract.
As expected. Graham isn't going anywhere. In addition to saying Graham will be tagged if need be, Loomis said the Saints will tag him as a tight end because "that's where he was drafted and that's what he is." Graham's camp may beg to differ. He played just one-third of his snaps as a traditional tight end in 2013. The difference between the tight-end tag and the receiver tag was $4.5 million last year. We could have a real contract dispute on our hands.

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How much is too much for Jimmy Graham?

Now that the Saints are facing the offseason here are my thoughts on the two biggest issues facing Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis. For the record, these two issues are way easier to deal with than the 2012 offseason. Remember when we were wondering who would coach the Saints? Would it be Aaron Kromer, Joe Vitt, Bill Parcells or mystery guy? Bad times. This is way better to talk about.

Graham's situation not as simple as you think

The Saints have some tough decisions to make this offseason and it starts with what to do about Jimmy Graham.

He is the best tight end in football and losing great players doesn't get you closer to the Super Bowl. While some fans might scream Graham not playing well in the post-season proves he's not worth paying huge money, I've learned in life it's best not to make huge decisions off a small sample size. The Baltimore Ravens paid Joe Flacco like he was an elite quarterback after he played four great playoff games and won a Super Bowl. By next December, they'll be regretting it. His poor playoff games will have no bearing on his contract.

The question with Graham is where is the line where his salary becomes too big? Graham's negotiations are different from Drew Brees' in 2012 because with Brees I knew there was ZERO chance he would be playing anywhere but New Orleans. The Saints weren't letting an elite quarterback leave. Period. End of discussion. In the NFL today, if you know or even think you have an elite quarterback you cling to them like a life raft in the ocean, so the Saints haggled with Brees until the last possible second and then signed the deal.

The big question to me is what if a team swoops in and wants to sign Graham and work out a trade for less than the two first-round picks the Saints would get if Graham leaves under the franchise tag?

The Saints won a Super Bowl without Jimmy Graham and as great as he is I'm leery of giving him $11 million a year.  Graham has had significant injuries in three of his four seasons. He did fight through a foot injury this year, but he's not less likely to get injured as he gets older. If the Saints are stuck paying an injured tight end $11 million in 2015, it's a nightmare cap situation.

In my opinion, it might be the toughest call Mickey Loomis has had to make on a Saints player since he has been Saints GM. The contract the Saints give Graham and his performance going forward will be a huge factor in if the Saints win another Super Bowl. The only thing worse cap wise than giving huge money to bad players is giving huge money to injured ones.

You might be screaming, "Hey Ralph, Brees was an injury risk too." Indeed he was in 2006, but the Saints protected themselves and for Brees' second contract Brees had proven he was a safe bet as far as injury worries.

With Graham I'm about 80 percent sure he'll be on the team in 2014. but it's not 100 percent. He will probably fight with the Saints over if he should be franchise tagged as a tight end or a wide receiver. He'll want the receiver tag because it means about 4 million more in guaranteed salary for the season.

I expect to read on Pro Football Talk about how frustrated Graham is about his contract 45 times before May.

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Jimmy Graham: Tight end or receiver?

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham could emerge as the biggest hot-button topic in the NFL this offseason, with two critical questions up for debate:

Is he a receiver or a tight end?

And how much is he worth?

The first will become important if Graham and the Saints are unable to agree on a new long-term contract before the franchise-tag deadline of March 3. If the Saints opt to use the franchise tag on Graham, it could set off a groundbreaking battle over his official designation.

Last year the franchise-tag salary was $10.5 million for receivers and $6 million for tight ends.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Graham lined up 291 times this year as an in-line tight end (33 percent). He lined up 395 times in the slot (45 percent). And he lined up 191 times out wide (22 percent). Pro Football Focus had almost the exact same numbers (290, 396 and 191).

Graham's agent Jimmy Sexton would likely argue that Graham should be labeled as a receiver since he spent 67 percent of his snaps lined up in traditional receiver positions. The Saints, meanwhile, could argue that Graham is still a tight end, first and foremost, and that the modern-day definition of the position is different than it used to be.

It's a debate that has come up in recent years with pending free agents like Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley -- as well as with some defensive players who are hybrid outside linebacker/defensive ends. But it has never reached the point before where an official decision had to be made.

I can see both sides of the argument.

Graham is indeed used primarily as a receiver. He even comes off the field on many run plays to be relieved by better blocking tight ends.

However, the tight end position is starting to become more and more dominated by similar-type players like veterans Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates and emerging youngsters Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas. And their salaries count among the franchise-tag figures for tight ends.

In fact, Gonzalez actually ran significantly more routes as a receiver this year (483) than Graham (373), according to ESPN Stats and Information. Cameron was close behind at 365.

Breaking it down further, Graham led all tight ends in routes run while lined up out wide (133, with Gonzalez at 98). However, Graham ranked seventh among all tight ends in routes run from the slot.

In one sense, the debate shouldn't matter.

The end game here is a long-term contract -- and Graham should ultimately earn an annual salary that's closer to the $10.5 million range than the $6 million range. That more accurately reflects Graham's value to the team, no matter how you label his position.

However, the franchise-tag designation will be key since it will provide leverage for one side or the other as Sexton and Saints general manger Mickey Loomis haggle over just much that long-term deal should be worth.

Gronkowski signed the richest deal ever by a tight end in 2012 -- an extension worth $54 million over six years. That deal isn't a perfect comparison, since Gronkowski was only two years into his rookie deal at the time, and because it included an opportunity for the New England Patriots to opt out of the final four years. However, that $9 million average should help set the floor for Graham's market value.

Meanwhile, a top free-agent receiver such as Mike Wallace signed a five-year deal worth $60 million last year with the Miami Dolphins.

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Saints could have cap issues re-signing Jimmy Graham

New Orleans is running into money issues, trying to fit so many good players into the fold.

The New Orleans Saints are paying the price for being a very good, competitive team. Literally.

Years of smart drafting and deft free agent signings have made the team competitive for the better part of a decade, with a Super Bowl coming in 2009. Now, the franchise is trying to figure out how to keep the band together, per the Times-Picayune.

The Saints have a plethora of free agents to try to re-sign this offseason, led by tight end Jimmy Graham. By far the best at his position, Graham is going to break the bank and deservedly so. Other free agents of note include center Brian de la Puente, corner Malcolm Jenkins and tackle Zach Strief.

With next year's salary cap projected to be $126 million, New Orleans is already $12 million over that figure. On the positive side, the Saints' largest contract belongs to quarterback Drew Brees, who is scheduled to make $18.4 million in 2014-15 before seeing his cap hit spike to $26.4 and $27.4 the following two seasons. Luckily, Brees has said he is very willing to restructure his contract to help the team's financial situation.

A few potential cuts could start with linebacker Will Smith and running back Pierre Thomas. Cutting Smith -- who didn't play in 2013 due to injury -- would save the Saints $11.5 million while Thomas is due $2.9 million but can be cut without a penalty. Wide receiver Lance Moore could also be a cap causality, saving the team $2.5 million but also giving it some dead money against the cap. He wouldn't be an easy decision like Smith.

It would be stunning if the Saints let Graham walk out the door. In all likelihood, New Orleans will hand out a few extensions, cut some dead weight off the back side of the roster and either tag Graham or ink him long-term. A long-term deal would help the cap situation in the short term, but could complicate things down the road. General manager Mickey Loomis will have to make that call and live with the consequences.

Jason Witten is currently the highest-paid tight end per year, making $7.4 million. It stands to reason Graham will come close to the $10 million figure with a boatload in guaranteed money on a long-term contract. However, the franchise tag would put Graham at around $7 million next season, while giving Loomis a little time to restructure the cap situation.

Jenkins and Strief might be given the right to look elsewhere for a new deal, with New Orleans trying to replace them on the cheap with draft picks. The Saints hit last year in the first round on dynamic safety Kenny Vaccaro, and will again try to replace a few expensive starters with younger, cheaper players. It would come as a shock to nobody if New Orleans went for an offensive lineman or a corner to pair with Jabari Greer.

Ultimately, the Saints will lose a few players to stay competitive, but with a strong draft and some wise signings they will remain a force with Brees and Sean Payton at the top.

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How the Seahawks' defense eliminated New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham started with a bang before the NFC divisional playoff game, getting into an altercation with Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin. But the New Orleans Saints' tight end didn't show up again until 24 seconds remained in the Saints' 23-15 loss.

Drew Brees only targeted Graham once in the first half. He targeted the All-Pro tight end four more times and came up empty. Graham's sixth and final target turned into his one and only catch for eight yards.

Not exactly the type way he wanted to wrap up a contract year, though Graham's previous results should make him a very, very wealthy man this offseason. But the paltry output induced a bucket of negative comments from the Seattle locker room, including defensive end Michael Bennett telling Bleacher Report that Graham was soft and the most overrated player in the NFL.

"I read what one player or two players had said and look, that is pretty typical when you get into these heated games," Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday. "I don't concern myself as much with what an opposing player might say. What's most important to us is our evaluation of a player's progression and how he impacts our team and how he helps us win."

I charted each of Graham's snaps on passing plays from the coaches' film. The Seahawks mixed up coverages on Graham and typically blanketed him when using single coverage.

Here's a look at each snap Graham received on a passing play:

First quarter
- Tight end formation for Graham; short crossing route bumped by a linebacker along the route; incomplete screen pass to Mark Ingram
- Inside receiver; seam route into a post; bumped off the line; linebacker in front and a safety behind; looked like Brees wanted to go to Graham; checkdown to Khiry Robinson for 13 yards
- Lone receiver to Brees' left, single coverage; play looked to be a designed screen with Graham trying to block; minus-3-yard screen pass to Darren Sproles
- Slot receiver to Brees' left; single coverage on a 5-yard out route; looked like another designed screen resulting in a Sproles 9-yard reception

Second quarter
- Lone receiver to Brees' left, single coverage and good coverage on a go route up the sideline, Brees looked Graham's way first and is forced to look elsewhere, ball sails too high to Lance Moore over the middle for an incomplete pass
- Tight end formation with hand to the ground, but outside tight end with Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson inside of Graham along the line; Graham gets a free release on a quick slant; play wasn't designed for Graham as Brees rolled right and threw an incomplete pass to Hill
- Inside receiver to Brees' right; Graham ran a quick turnaround at the first-down marker; two Seahawks settled in on Graham; Brees pumped into his direction, tucked the ball and had his pass intended for Colston batted down on fourth down
- Inside receiver to Brees' right in trips formation; short seam route with a linebacker in front of Graham; a Colston 9-yard reception
- First target; inside receiver to Brees' right in trips formation; intermediate seam route; Brees threw an incomplete pass to Graham as safety Earl Thomas flew over Graham's back to break up the pass; Graham looked for a flag, but Thomas had perfect timing
- Inside receiver to Brees' right in trips formation; deeper seam route; one defender in front of Graham and two behind him; incomplete to Colston

Third quarter
- Lone receiver to Brees' left; single coverage; Graham ran a go route, but looked like he was more clearing out his defender to open up the middle of the field; Colston hauled in a 16-yard reception thanks to the clear out; Graham also laid a block on a second defender to keep him out of the play
- Tight end formation with hand to the ground with Watson lined up inside of Graham; Graham ran about a 10-yard crossing pattern with a linebacker drifting in front of Graham in coverage; Robert Meachem 17-yard reception
- Inside receiver to Brees' left; single coverage and tight coverage; play was designed to Watson all the way to the right, but Watson's screen pass went for no gain
- Inside receiver part of a stack formation with a third wideout to the left; single coverage with a linebacker blanketing him; Brees sack and guard Jahri Evans fumble recovery
- Tight end formation with hand to the ground; Graham ran a go route with a defensive back playing behind him; incomplete to Colston
- Second target; lone receiver to the right; cornerback Richard Sherman in single coverage; Sherman had his hands all over Graham on a short crossing pattern at the first-down marker; pass was batted down at the line for an incompletion
- Graham went in motion to become the inside receiver to Brees' right; defensive back jammed Graham hard on his short out route; Brees rolled right, possibly pondering Graham as an option; stopped and threw back across the field incomplete to Moore to turn it over on downs
- Inside receiver to Brees' right; initial defender let Graham scoot by with Sherman picking Graham up right away; Brees threw a 6-yard completion to Colston at the defender who left Graham
- Tight end formation with hand to the ground; Graham initially blocked a defensive end, then took off on a quick crossing route off the line; Hill 23-yard reception

Fourth quarter
- Lone receiver to Brees' right; Sherman in coverage with hands all over Graham as Graham ran a stutter step at the line and wanted to run an out route once he hit the end zone; Brees hit Moore for a 9-yard reception instead
- Lone receiver to Brees' right; Sherman on single coverage and good coverage with no grabbing this time on a Graham go route; Colston 6-yard reception
- Inside receiver to Brees' left; linebacker in single coverage; Graham didn't really run a route as he looked to block his defender; incomplete screen pass to Travaris Cadet on the opposite side of the field
- Inside receiver to Brees' left in a tight formation; linebacker in front and safety behind in bracket coverage on Graham's 10-yard out route; Colston 15-yard reception
- Inside receiver to Brees' left in trips formation; zone coverage with a linebacker in front and defensive back behind on a short crossing pattern to the right; Brees scrambled to hit Kenny Stills on a 30-yard reception, but Zach Strief's holding penalty negated the play
- Third target (exactly midway through the fourth quarter); middle receiver in trips formation to Brees' left, but inside receiver is essentially stacked next to him; safety Kam Chancellor had single coverage on Graham's crossing pattern; incomplete as Chancellor dropped an interception right in his hands
- Fourth target; middle receiver in trips formation to Brees' left, but he's stacked essentially next to a receiver; Graham ran a crossing route as the Seahawks played zone; Thomas banged into Graham again as the Seahawks' safety played the middle of the zone to break up the pass for an incompletion; Graham got up again looking for a flag and had a better argument this time than in the second quarter
- Tight end formation with hand to the ground as the outside tight end; Graham had a free release, but ran out to find someone to block for a screen pass that fell incomplete; defensive holding gave the Saints a first down
- Inside receiver to Brees' left with a tight formation; Graham ran a deep out route with single coverage on him by a defensive back; Meachem 52-yard reception off the tip
- Tight end formation with his hand to the ground; single coverage initially on a go route, but the safety came over quickly to help; incomplete to Ingram
- Lone receiver to Brees' left; short crossing route with single coverage; incomplete to Colston
- Inside receiver to Brees' left; quick out route with a linebacker not really too near him in single coverage; play obviously wasn't designed for Graham; incomplete to Sproles on the opposite side of the field
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' right; Graham ran a flat route with really no one around him; Colston 18-yard reception
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' right; Graham ran an intermediate turnaround route with a linebacker in tight coverage; Moore 11-yard reception
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' right; Graham ran a flat route with single coverage; Colston 11-yard reception
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' right; Graham ran a flat route with no one within 10 yards of him; Colston 16-yard reception
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' right; Graham ran a little stutter route up the seam with a linebacker in front and a safety behind; Sproles 6-yard reception
- Inside receiver to Brees' right; single coverage by a defensive back on a quick crossing pattern; the umpire helped the Seahawks as Graham got tangled up with him on the route; incompletion to Stills; defensive penalty for 12 men on the field
- Fifth target, inside receiver to Brees' right; free release off the line; Graham cut left at the goal line; Chancellor jumped the route and nearly picked the pass off on the incompletion
- Inside receiver to Brees' right as he lined up tight along the formation; defensive back with single coverage and solid coverage on an out route at the goal line; incomplete to Moore
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' left; flat route that Graham eventually turned into an out-and-up route with single coverage; Moore 7-yard reception, but offensive pass interference negated the play
- Inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' left; seam route with two defenders around Graham; Sproles 14-yard reception
- Inside receiver to Brees' left; single coverage as Graham ran a crossing route at the goal line; Colston 9-yard touchdown reception
- Sixth and final target; one and only reception; inside receiver in trips formation to Brees' right; Seahawks played deep zone; Graham ran up the seam and settled in the middle of the field for an 8-yard reception
- Inside receiver to Brees' right in a trips formation as if the Saints were running a Hail Mary; Graham ran the go route as two defenders were with him; Colston caught the pass and the failed lateral ensued

Soft? Overrated? I'm not buying either tag. But we've seen good defenses find ways to take Graham out of the equation in 2013. Finding ways to counteract the tactics of some of the upper-tier NFL defenses will be essential for the Saints to find more consistent production from the top weapon.

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Seahawks' Irvin details altercation with Saints' Graham

SEATTLE — New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham wasn’t in the mood to talk about his pregame altercation with Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin after Saturday’s season-ending divisional playoff loss.

But Irvin was more than happy to give the blow-by-blow.

“Jimmy was warming up in our area and I just asked, ‘Could you go on your side of the field?’” Irvin said after the Seahawks’ 23-15 winicon1. “And he said, ‘I’m Jimmy.’ And I said, ‘Who is Jimmy? I don’t know Jimmy.’”

Photographers on the field caught Graham yelling and removing Irvin’s knit hat as a Saints staff member tried to hold him back. But Irvin said that came only after he escalated the exchange.

“Y’all missed the first part. I took his ball and booted it across the field,” Irvin said. “That’s when he knocked my hat off.”

Graham said only that Irvin “tried to disrespect me, and I’m not going to let anyone disrespect me. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Also before the game, Graham got into a shouting match with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who played a role in holding him to one late catch for 8 yards on six targets.

“He said he was going to run us over or something,” Sherman said, then laughed.

According to Irvin, Graham’s talking once the game started was limited to “just a lot of cuss words and stuff like that. But that’s football, man. It is what it is.”
Does that stuff happen often before games?

“Nah,” Irvin said. “I asked him politely. I said, ‘We’re about to warm up.’ And he was like, ‘I’m Jimmy.’ I said, ‘Who is Jimmy?’And that’s when I hit the ball out of his hands and I kicked it across the field. That’s when we really got into it.”

Graham, 27, had 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. He’s due to hit free agency in March if the Saints don’t use the franchise tag or work out a multi-year contract first.

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Seahawks D: Jimmy Graham is the 'softest, most overrated' player in NFL

"I'm Jimmy," Jimmy Graham told a group of Seahawks when they asked him to move out of their area.

Somehow, the Seahawks took this as an insult and a bit of softcore violence broke up prior to yesterday's Saints-Seahawks divisional playoff game. Graham, apparently too important to be asked to move, was apparently also too important to contribute more than eight receiving yards during the game, which he and the Saints lost, 23-15.

Back in Seattle's locker room following the contest, the Seahawks' defense had some choice words for Graham.

Seahawks' Michael Bennett called Jimmy Graham soft and the most overrated player in the NFL.

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Some proCanes Advance in the NFL Playoffs, While Others Are Sent Home Packing

With the first round of the NFL playoffs complete, some proCanes were sent home packing while others continue their quest for a Super Bowl ring.

With the New Orleans Saints defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, Jimmy Graham and Jon Vilma (IR) advance to the next round of the playoffs to take on the proCane-less Seattle Seahawks. Go Saints! The Eagles lost because they didn’t have any proCanes. Happy

Two proCanes were sent home with the Kansas City Chiefs losing a thriller to the Indianapolis Colts. DL Allen Bailey and TE Richard Gordon were sent home while Reggie Wayne (IR) will continue to help his team from sidelines in their next game versus the New England Patriots who have proCane DL Vince Wilfork who is also on IR.

The San Francisco 49ers behind the solid running of proCane RB Frank Gore ended up defeating the Green Bay Packers who lost proCane DB Sam Shields in the first quarter of their defeat. The 49ers will face the Carolina Panthers who have proCane TE Greg Olsen on the field and QB Coach Ken Dorsey on the sidelines. The Packers also have scouts Glenn Cook and Alonzo Highsmith on their staff as well as Winston Moss.

The Chargers who don’t have a proCane and defeated the proCane-less Bengals (boooooring), will face the Denver Broncos with their solid proCane offensive lineman Orlando Franklin.

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Jimmy Graham near unanimous All-Pro selection

NEW YORK (AP) -- Peyton Manning was the only unanimous choice for the 2013 Associated Press NFL All-Pro team Friday. It was his seventh time as a first-teamer, tying Hall of Famer Otto Graham for the most by a quarterback.

The Denver star set NFL records this season with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards through the air.

He was chosen on all 50 ballots from media members who regularly cover the NFL. Manning also was an All-Pro in 2003, `04, `05, `08, `09 and last season.

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis each drew 49 votes. Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had 48.

Manning and Graham do not hold the mark for most All-Pro appearances. Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, for example, was a 10-time All-Pro.

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Jimmy Graham Named To All NFC South Team by ESPN

Just like it played out in the NFC South standings this season, it was a neck-and-neck battle for supremacy between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers when it came to ESPN.com’s All-NFC South team. Ultimately, the Panthers edged the Saints with 10 representatives, compared to New Orleans’ nine.

Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams was the division’s leading rusher with just 843 rushing yards. The Saints who made the list on offense -- quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marques Colston, right tackle Zach Strief and guard Jahri Evans -- were all worthy selections. The same for punter Thomas Morstead.

Click here to see the rest of the players named.

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Stopping Jimmy Graham will be key for Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles defense has improved throughout the season, but even in victory, their Achilles heel showed on Sunday night -- covering the tight end.

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten torched the Eagles to the tune of 12 catches for 135 yards on Sunday night, easily the veteran tight ends best game of the season.

While Witten is a solid player, he is not what he used to be -- and he certainly isn't in the class of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

Something that is bad news for Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis.

"He's the No. 1 target they have and he's been their most consistent target," Davis said on Tuesday. "He's a big, athletic tight end, catches everything thrown near him. They move him all over the place so it's tough to practice and get a beat on how to help guys on him.

Graham once up again put up big numbers this season, finishing with 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and a whopping 16 touchdowns. At 6-7, 265 lbs, he is a matchup nightmare for any team, let alone one that struggles to cover tight ends to begin with.

"I think we have been good at times and struggled at times," Davis said of his defenses' ability to cover tight ends. "Like anything, the talent level of the tight end that's coming at you, how much I help on the tight end with a call or I don't, depending how many weapons they have or the situation, sometimes I give a lot of help, sometimes I don't and I think it just moves, it's a moving target."

The Eagles do not have a ton of experience covering Graham, as he has has faced them just once in his career, finishing with seven receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.

How the Eagles decide to cover Graham will be interesting.

Amongst the linebackers, there is no clear answer as to who can matchup with Graham. The Eagles most athletic linebacker is Mychal Kendricks, but at just a little under six feet tall, Kendricks gives up nearly seven inches to Graham. Kendricks is also best when he is allowed to rush the passer, so having him drop back into coverage all day is not ideal for the Eagles.

Connor Barwin is a possibility, as he has the size to hang with Graham, but does not have the speed to keep up with Graham.

It is possible the Eagles could decide to stick a cornerback on Graham, as they have two tall, long cornerbacks in Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.

On Tuesday, Williams said that he doesn't have a ton of experience covering tight ends, but would be willing to try if asked.

"They have been physical. Made him change his footing. Stop and start. He isn't exactly the fastest guy out there -- he has good speed, but he is a build up guy. If you give him a free release, he is going to have a lot of success. But if you get in his face, and you harass him a little bit, I don't think he necessarily likes it."

Although they will need to use either Williams or Fletcher on Saints wideout Marques Colston -- who is 6-4 -- they could put a smaller corner on the Saints other wideout, Kenny Stills, who is just over six feet tall.

Putting a player like Roc Carmichael on Stills would allow the Eagles to let Fletcher or Williams matchup with Graham, presenting the Eagles with perhaps their best chance of containing the Pro-Bowl tight end.

No matter how they decide to do it, however, it is going to be critical for the Eagle to try to slow down Graham.

In the Saints four losses this season in which Graham played, the tight end averaged just over four catches a game. In the Saints 10 wins with Graham, he averaged close to seven catches.

Meaning if the Eagles want to advance past the wild card round of the playoffs, stopping Graham is going to have to be priority No. 1.

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Three proCanes Named To Pro Bowl Roster

Three Miami Hurricanes were among those named to the 2014 Pro Bowl, announced by the National Football League offices Wednesday.

Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) was the lone proCane AFC selection

San Francisco 49ers' running back Frank Gore, who recently marked his team-record seventh 1,000-yard season, was an NFC selection along with Saints TE Jimmy Graham.

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Jimmy Graham finishes in top 10 overall in Pro Bowl fan voting

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham ranked in the overall top 10 of the final Pro Bowl fan balloting results with the selections to be announced Friday night.

Brees finished as the second-highest vote-getter in the NFL behind only Denver's Peyton Manning. Graham ranked ninth overall behind Manning, Brees, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Seattle's Russell Wilson, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy. New England's Tom Brady rounded out the top 10.

Fan votes are one-third of the Pro Bowl voting component with player votes and coach votes as the other two-thirds.

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Jimmy Graham played on just 44 snaps

Jimmy Graham played on just 44-of-81 (54.3 percent) snaps in the Week 16 loss to the Panthers.
It's strange as Graham played on 83.7 percent of the snaps in Week 15. Perhaps his foot was bothering him more this week, or maybe the Saints wanted Ben Watson (47 snaps) on the field more to help hide LT Terron Armstead. Either way, Graham has been playing at less than 100 percent for more than two months now and still has an 81/1144/15 line. He's an obvious first-round pick in 2014 fantasy drafts.

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Jimmy Graham drops 5/73/1 on Panthers

Jimmy Graham caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans' Week 16 loss to the Panthers.
Most of Graham's production came on the Saints' lone touchdown-scoring drive, where he shed tight coverage from CB Drayton Florence to create a 46-yard gain, catching a jump-ball TD moments later. Graham displayed awe-inspiring physicality on both the long gain and the score. Heading into the last week of the regular season, Graham has 81 catches for 1,144 yards and 15 touchdowns.

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Jimmy Graham remains in top 10 of Pro Bowl voting

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees and TE Jimmy Graham rank in the top 10 of NFL All-Stars in balloting for the 2014 Pro Bowl with two weeks left to vote, the NFL announced Wednesday.

Brees ranks second overall (934,772) and Graham ranks seventh (625,674).

Fan voting for the 2014 Pro Bowl, presented by McDonald’s, will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going here until 5 pm CT on Thursday, December 26.

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning, with 1,093,691, currently leads Pro Bowl voting. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (745,286), Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (739,971) and Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (739,701) round out the top five in fan votes.

Graham leads the team in receiving with 74 receptions for 1,046 yards (14.1 avg.) with a team-record 14 touchdowns, which leads the NFL both in scoring grabs and scoring among nonkickers (84).

Pro Bowl balloting will conclude on Thursday, December 26, just three days prior to an exciting slate of Week 17 NFL games. The Pro Bowl players will be announced on Friday, December 27.

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Jimmy Graham visits East Jefferson's football team

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham visited East Jefferson High School on Tuesday to speak to the football team before practice.

Graham encouraged the players to put their best foot forward in all aspects of the game and spoke about the importance of teamwork.

Graham surprised the team in its locker room while the players were getting ready for practice.

“What you guys have accomplished so far is a big deal,” Graham said. “It’s never been done at this school. Know that you are already among special company. That’s how you should attack this thing, knowing that you are special and know that you can win it.”

After the players took a photo with Graham, they asked him demonstrate his dunking skills on their goal post.

East Jefferson will be competing for the state championship in the LHSAA State Farm Prep Classic on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time in school history.

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Jimmy Graham picks up two TDs on SNF

Jimmy Graham had six catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday night's Week 14 win over the Panthers.
Graham worked the middle of the field against the Panthers' zone defense and took advantage when matched up with Mike Mitchell and Luke Kuechly in coverage. He scored on a five-yard crossing pattern at the end of the first half, and later connected with Drew Brees from eight yards out in the fourth quarter. With the performance, Graham went over 1,000 receiving yards on the season and second time in his career. He'll remain a top-two TE1 in Week 15 against the Rams.

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Jimmy Graham in the top 10 of fan Pro Bowl voting with three weeks left to vote

Jimmy Graham rank in the top 10 of NFL All-Stars in balloting for the 2014 Pro Bowl with three weeks left to vote, the NFL announced Wednesday.

Graham has enjoyed one of the most prolific campaigns for a tight end in 2013, leading the team in receiving with 69 receptions for 988 yards (14.5 avg.) with a team-record 12 touchdowns, tied for the league lead. Leading tight ends in virtually every receiving category, tied for tenth in the NFL in receptions, ranked tenth in receiving yardage, tied for sixth in third down receptions (21), first in touchdown receptions and 17th in first downs (49).

Pro Bowl balloting will conclude on Thursday, December 26, just three days prior to an exciting slate of Week 17 NFL games. The Pro Bowl players will be announced on Friday, December 27.

Players will later be assigned to teams through the first-ever Pro Bowl Draft, which will air on NFL Network during the week leading up to the game.

The 2014 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 26, 2014 and televised live on NBC at 7:00 PM ET from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

For the first time ever, the Pro Bowl will be “unconferenced.”

Gone is the familiar AFC vs. NFC match-up that has existed since 1971. Instead, players will be selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players. For example, the top six quarterbacks following voting will earn distinction as All-Stars, regardless of how many are from AFC or NFC teams.

The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 88 All-Star players who will be eligible for the Pro Bowl Draft.

NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 23-26. The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its all-star teams. It was the first professional sports league to offer online all-star voting in 1995.

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Jimmy Graham plays majority of snaps Monday, seems fully moved on from injury

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimy Grahahm played the majority of snaps on Monday. We break down the fantasy implications.

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham seems to have moved on from his foot injuries for good. Graham played in 54 of New Orleans' 62 offensive snaps in the team's Week 13 Monday Night Football matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Saints were getting blown out and had no hope of winning the game, which was clear early on. The field was also in a poor way, including slippery conditions. Despite all of this, Graham played and the Saints continued to try and get the ball to him.

Graham had three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, and was targeted nine times against the Seahawks. On the season, he has 68 receptions for 988 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Fantasy Impact: It's good to see Graham getting a full slate of playing time despite the fact that the Saints were out of the game. Graham should rebound nicely against the Carolina Panthers in Week 14. Fantasy owners should still consider Graham the top tight end in fantasy football and it's likely he'll prove that a couple more times before the end of this fantasy football season.

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Jimmy Graham catches 12th TD in MNF loss

Jimmy Graham caught three passes for 42 yards and one touchdown in Week 13 against the Seahawks.

Graham saw a team-high nine targets. He could have had a much bigger night had he been able to hold onto a couple passes that he took big hits on. Either way, Graham still led the Saints in receiving in a game which Drew Brees passed for just 174 yards on 38 attempts. Graham had the two biggest gains of the night. His touchdown came from two yards out in between three defenders. At the season's three-quarter pole, Graham is on pace to catch 90 passes for 1,317 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's an every-week top-two tight end.

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Jimmy Graham spends more time studying than ever thanks to diverse coverages

The possibility of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman guarding him Monday night is one of the major reasons why New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham spends more time these days watching film. That's because opponents are trying to implement anything they can to slow Graham.

But for the most part, nothing has worked. Graham entered Week 13 tied for the league lead in touchdowns with Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Graham has been by far the Saints' most prolific offensive weapon for Drew Brees this season.

Graham said he's not sure if Sherman will defend him in one-on-one coverage Monday night when the Saints face the Seahawks. New England assigned its best corner, Aqib Talib, to Graham, who was held without a catch vs. the Patriots. But the way in which teams try to take Graham out of the Saints' offensive equation is more diverse than ever.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wasn't dropping any hints as to how Seattle will defend Graham, but added, "We think he's a great player, and it's going to take everything we've got to try and slow him down. That doesn't mean you will, even when you're trying that hard."

That's why Graham tries to plan for everything.

"You definitely try to learn the tendencies," Graham said. "More or less me, I just look at it across the board and learn everyone's tendencies, everyone's weaknesses, everyone's strengths because there's many times in a game when I'll have any one of the corners or safeties or linebackers on me split out in the slot or at the tight end position. 

"For me, it's all around getting a feel for what everyone does best and try to use that to my advantage."

Graham said only two games threw him off of what he anticipated in a defensive matchup: the second half of the Tampa Bay game in Week 2 when he was bracketed by two defenders and the majority of the game in New England when Talib defended him before leaving with an injury in the second half.

Graham described Talib's coverage as "a guy who has no responsibilities but to really just hold me."

But because of the way the Saints use him flexed out in formations in the role of a wide receiver, Graham said he finds himself studying players such as Calvin Johnson and the Texans' Andre Johnson to learn how they work their way through different coverages.

"I feel like these days I could be split out and run my sluggos (slant-and-go routes) or my seam routes and there was no help behind them," Graham said. "But you'll see now even looks where a cover 1 where a safety will cheat over my way. 

"Safeties used to not pay attention to me, but now it looks like they're instantly sprinting back to cover the seam route."

Saints coach Sean Payton said he pays a lot of attention to a team's game plan for  Graham during the course of a game.

"It's fairly common, and a lot of teams do this in the opening groups of plays," Payton said. "There's usually a mix of personnel to try and see (if) we are getting nickel or are we getting base and what are the matchups. I think that's pretty significant as to what we can gather early in the game and pay attention to how they're treating Darren Sproles or how they're treating certain personnel groupings."

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Jimmy Graham joined all-timers (and not just with dunk)

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham brought down the house last night.

Figuratively, and nearly literally.

Graham even took to Twitter to apologize for bending the goalpost with his mighty two-handed dunk.

Of course, Graham did more than just tear up the furniture.

He finished the game with five catches for 100 yards. That’s his sixth 100-yard game this year. According to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, that’s tied for the most in Saints franchise history and tied for the most by any player in the league this year (with Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green).

It also tied Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez’s record for most 100-yard games in a season, which Gonzalez did in 2000 and 2004.

Considering he’s doing it all while dealing with a foot problem that has limited him this year, his feat of strength might not be the most impressive thing he’s doing.

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Jimmy Graham bends the uprights at the Georgia Dome with his dunking TD celebration

Uprights aren't meant to be dunked on, apparently.

We've all seen clips of basketball players like Shaq breaking backboards with their dunks back before the NBA started making breakaway rims. But we haven't seen the same thing translated to football, until Thursday night at the Georgia Dome when Jimmy Graham's dunking TD celebration got the uprights a bit askew:


And it didn't snap back:


Personally, I think it would've been best if they'd just kinda left it that way and forced kickers to adjust. But apparently there are "rules" and stuff about the uprights being ... you know ... upright.

So they had to get out the bubble level:


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Jimmy Graham Sees Increased Snaps

A week after playing in only 40 percent of the Saints' offensive snaps, Graham played in 51-of-69 snaps (74 percent) against the 49ers on Sunday, reports ESPN.com.

Despite the marginal production -- six catches for 41 yards -- Sunday's snap count is a good indicator that Graham was able to manage his plantar fascitis in Week 11. So long as he can continue to play through the injury, he remains an elite option at tight end, particularly with a favorable Week 12 matchup on deck Thursday night in Atlanta.

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Jimmy Graham has six-catch afternoon

Jimmy Graham caught six passes for 41 yards in New Orleans' Week 11 win over the 49ers.

Graham was targeted 11 times one week after drawing only five, with two of them coming inside the 49ers' five-yard line. He couldn't turn either of his goal-line looks into a touchdown, however. Either way, Graham was a much bigger part of the offense after being suspiciously limited in Week 10 against the Cowboys. The Saints are playing in the Thursday night game for Week 12 — which is far from ideal for a player dealing with a painful foot injury — but Graham remains a top-two option at tight end.

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Jimmy Graham adjusting to limited role

METAIRIE, La. -- Tight end Jimmy Graham played a limited role in the New Orleans Saints' 49-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, appearing in only 33 of 83 snaps. However, both Graham and coach Sean Payton indicated afterward that it was more of a pre-determined game plan to limit his snaps, rather than any indication of an injury setback.

Graham has been managing the pain of a partially-torn plantar fascia in his left foot since Week 6. He also suffered an unspecified elbow injury during Week 9. And he was limited throughout practice last week.

Graham was in and out of the lineup steadily throughout the night against the Cowboys. And when he was on the sideline, he was always in "ready position," waiting to hop back on the field. He never showed any signs of discomfort.

His limited role was noteworthy, though, because he had played 56 snaps the week before in a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets.

"They just want to make sure that they're handling me the right way," Graham said after catching five passes for 59 yards against the Cowboys. "They really look to limit me at times. You know, I've got some issues. But you know, everyone does. So it's gonna be like that from week to week.

"You know me, personally obviously I want to be in on every play. But now it's kind of changing gears and getting used to sitting out for five to six plays and then going in and staying fresh and making sure you stay warm. That's not something I'm used to."

The most surprising thing about the way Graham was used against the Cowboys was how rarely he played when the Saints were in the red zone -- where he presents such a threat as a big, physical target. Graham leads the NFL with 10 touchdown receptions this season. And in his first game back from the foot injury two weeks ago, he played almost exclusively in the red zone.

Without getting into any specific details, Payton said Monday that Graham's role was "just predicated on the game plan and the work week."

It's likely Graham will see more red-zone snaps going forward as his specific game plan continues to evolve in future weeks.

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Jimmy Graham only played 33 snaps

Jimmy Graham (foot, elbow) played on just 33 snaps in Sunday night's win over the Cowboys.
A week after playing on nearly 77 percent of the snaps, Graham was back down around the 40 percent mark. He even sat out some red-zone opportunities, constantly shuttling on and off the field. Graham still ended up with five catches for 59 yards, but it's impossible to say when/if he'll be back to full strength. Plantar fascia injuries can be managed, but are often painful and only truly heal with rest. All that said, a 50 percent healthy Graham is still a top-three fantasy tight end weekly.

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Cowboys view Jimmy Graham as wideout

IRVING, Texas -- At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, the New Orleans Saints list Jimmy Graham as a tight end.

That doesn’t mean the Dallas Cowboys view Graham as one.

“He’s a wide receiver for sure,” safety Barry Church said. “That’s what we’re going to treat him as in this game.”

Graham leads the Saints with 49 catches for 746 yards and his 10 touchdowns lead the NFL. On Oct. 13, the New England Patriots were able to hold him without a catch by putting cornerback Aqib Talib on him all over the field.

The Cowboys have had cornerback Brandon Carr follow some of their opponents’ top receivers all over the field. The last time was Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 329 receiving yards, but Carr helped limit Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

Will the Cowboys be as extreme as New England? Maybe not. Sean Lee said it will be a team defense on Graham.

“I think in a lot of areas we’re going to have to make sure we know where he is on the field and whoever is on him will know, hey, the ball could be coming your way at any point,” Lee said. “And he’s a guy even if you’re on him, Drew Brees can put it in places and he can go to where, hey, he’s covered but he’s not covered.”

Technically Graham is a tight end and other tight ends have given the Cowboys trouble. San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates caught 10 passes for 136 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. Denver’s Julius Thomas caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Myers of the New York Giants had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. In last week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, Kyle Rudolph had a 31-yard touchdown catch.

“Against elite quarterbacks we weren’t that good and against pretty good tight ends, they’ve been able to hurt us in the past,” Church said. “Hopefully the game plan we do have set up will switch that around and we’ll have a better day.”

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Jimmy Graham very limited but scores twice

Jimmy Graham caught three passes for 37 yards and two touchdowns in Week 8 against the Bills.
Graham was very limited. He may not have even played 20 snaps. Graham played in all red-zone packages but rarely was on the field in between the 20s. He was targeted just the three times. But if we learned anything today, it's that you never bench Graham if he's active. One touchdown came from 15 yards out as he powered through Da'Norris Searcy. The other was a 13-yard strike where Graham stretched his arm across the goal line before his knee hit the ground. Graham is battling a painful partially torn plantar fascia injury, but he's going to keep playing. Hopefully another week of rest will do him some good. The Saints travel to New Jersey to take on the Jets in Week 9.

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Saints made last-minute decision on Jimmy Graham

The Saints didn't decide Jimmy Graham's (foot) Week 8 availability until just before game time.
Team doctors are confident Graham's partial plantar fascia tear cannot be aggravated, and his playing availability going forward will come down to pain tolerance. Graham managed to play under 20 snaps in Sunday's blowout win over the Bills, primarily playing in red-zone packages. He caught three passes for 37 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints travel to face the Jets in Week 9.

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Jimmy Graham doesn’t practice Wednesday

The Saints were optimistic heading into the bye that tight end Jimmy Graham’s ankle would be healed in time for him to play in Week Eight against the Bills, but Wednesday’s practice went off without Graham on the field.

Graham was held out of practice and coach Sean Payton said on a conference call with Buffalo reporters that the team is going to evaluate things on a daily basis for the rest of the week.

“Each day we’ll just take a peek on how he’s progressing and be smart about it,” Payton said, via Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.

Graham’s an important enough piece of the offense that the team probably won’t risk him if they think there’s too great a risk of aggravating the injury at this point in Graham’s recovery. He’s also an important enough piece that he could probably miss practice all week and still play if his ankle is feeling well enough.

Either way, we’re not likely to have definitive word on Graham’s status until Friday at the earliest.

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Is Jimmy Graham just scratching the

Jimmy Graham may have emerged as the best tight end in football, but the 6-7, 265-pounder is still figuring out the nuances of the game.

“Every day I’m growing and every day I’m learning,” Graham told NFP. “I still feel like there’s a lot I can learn and a lot I can get better at.”

Now that the former University of Miami (Fla.) basketball player, who played just one season of college football, understands how to watch film, the fourth-year NFL star said he finally recognizes holes in the defense and more quickly realizes when he has one-on-one matchups.

“I feel light years ahead of where I was two, three years ago,” Graham said.

And his 2013 season may end up being ahead of every tight end in the history of the NFL. Even after getting held without a catch in Week 6 against the Patriots, he’s on pace for 1,581 yards, which would shatter the NFL single-season yardage record for a tight end. (Rob Gronkowski holds that mark of 1,327 yards set in 2011.)

After Week 5 Graham tied an NFL record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games for a tight end (4). He was the Offensive Player of the Month for September, the first tight end to receive such an award since the NFL began handing it out in 1986.

Graham attributes his spectacular 2013 performance to not only his continuing understanding of the game but also that he had an entire offseason to work with quarterback Drew Brees.

The previous offseason they missed time together because Brees, a free agent, was holding out. The NFL lockout occurred the year before, preventing workouts before the season.

“(This) was the first offseason where me and Drew really had the time and the chance to get all that work in,” he said. “I feel like me and him are on the same heartbeat right now. He definitely expects me to be certain places and knows I’m going to be there. There are certain situations he knows where I’m one-on-one, and he just throws it up to me. He has a lot of trust, a lot of faith in me.”

In addition to his synchronization with Brees, Graham cited another reason for his hot start. He was much healthier. That, of course, was before he hurt his left foot in Week 6. Preliminary reports indicate the injury is not serious.

That wasn’t the case last year when Graham battled right ankle and left wrist injuries and was limited to nine starts. The latter injury required offseason surgery and may explain his drop in production to 85 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns.

Sure, those were impressive numbers, but they represented a major decline from his breakout 2011 season when he had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. According to Stats, Inc., Graham led the league in 2012 with 13 dropped passes, a likely byproduct of his ailing wrist preventing him from properly catching the ball.

“Last year was a rough one for me,” Graham said.

This year the Saints have deployed him all over the field, a versatility that was on display as he burned the Bears for 135 yards on 10 catches during a 26-18 victory in Week 5.

“He’s a tough guy to stop,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “They use him as a wide receiver out on the perimeter. They use him inside.”

As a result, defenses are forced to be just as creative in how they try and contain him. The Bears threw the kitchen sink at him, rotating defenders, mixing coverages, using double teams and trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage.

“They were putting guys everywhere and making sure I wouldn’t get off the ball clean,” Graham said. “Every one on their secondary and every linebacker at some point had me.”

If there’s a particular route where Graham has had success, it may be the sluggo (also known as the slant-and-go). With opposing defenses so geared to stop the short route, Graham can set them up before torching them on a long go pattern.

“A lot of corners and safeties are just hungry for that big hit or to break up that slant,” Graham said. “Drew believes no matter what the defense is that I’m going to catch it.”

Although the Patriots held Graham without a catch in Week 6, they shadowed him with Aqib Talib, one of the game’s best cover cornerbacks, a treatment usually reserved for a team’s No. 1 wide receiver.

There’s the rub.

Graham is in the last year of his contract, and rumors have swirled that his agent, Jimmy Sexton, will ask for wide receiver — not tight end — money, which could approach $10 million a year — a major increase from Gronkowsi’s six-year, $54 million deal, the richest tight end contract in history.

But that’s a story for the upcoming offseason. For now Graham is just enjoying the benefits of the past offseason, his first one in years with Brees and one that brought him another step closer to fulfilling his limitless potential.

“He’s still hungry to learn,” Saints wide receiver Marques Colston said. “He’s only going to continue to get better.”

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Jimmy Graham likely questionable this

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham is likely questionable for the game this Sunday against Buf-falo, although his lower leg injury is not expected to be a lingering problem, a source said Monday.

Graham was injured at the end of the Saints loss at New England on Oct. 13. The Saints had a bye this week. However, it’s unclear if that was enough time for Graham to get healthy enough for the next game against the Bills. Graham had 37 receptions for 593 yards and six touchdowns this season.

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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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Jimmy Graham injury: Saints optimistic about return

Jimmy Graham is still being evaluated, but the Saints are optimistic that he'll be able to return after the team's Week 7 bye week, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Graham injured his left foot during the fourth quarter of New Orleans' loss to New England on Sunday.

Graham initially returned after having his foot taped up by the training staff, but he was not able to finish the game. He left for good with about five minutes remaining.

Graham was scheduled to have an MRI on the foot Monday. If the team's early optimism proves accurate, the tight end will be suited up and ready to go for the Saints' home game against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 27.

Graham was held without a reception for the first time this season in the loss to the Patriots. He has four 100-yard receiving games already and leads the NFL with 593 receiving yards on 37 receptions.

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Saints give no update on Jimmy Graham injury

The Saints provided no update on Jimmy Graham's apparent left ankle/foot injury following Sunday's Week 6 loss.
Our guess is Graham avoided a serious injury because he was cleared to reenter the game, but later left for good. The Saints have a Week 7 bye for Graham to get his foot right. He finished Sunday's game without a catch for the first time since Graham's rookie season in 2010, when he was still learning to play football. Graham was a basketball player at Miami (FL).

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Jimmy Graham shut out by Patriots

Foxborourgh, Mass. -- How to stop or even slow down New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had become one of this season's greatest unknowns throughout the NFL as Graham had transformed into the ultimate mismatch for the opposition.

Leave it up to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots to not only limit Graham, but completely shut him out in the Saints' 30-27 loss in Gillette Stadium.
Graham, the league's leader in receiving yards coming into the game, was held without a catch despite being targeted by Drew Brees six times. It's the first time since Oct. 31, 2010, his rookie year against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Graham failed to catch a pass in a game.

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib drew the assignment on Graham and stuck to him like a mosquito, giving Graham barely room to breathe much less catch a football. Payton referred to Talib as an elite cornerback leading up to the game and the Saints had to figure he would defend Graham at some point Sunday.
Payton said it wasn't all Talib, though, pointing more to a philosophy New England implements as a whole to slow down the opponent's primary weapon.

"The one thing they do a good job with is they disrupt you at the line of scrimmage really better than anyone," Payton said. "They do a really good job of getting hands on receivers and tight ends. They're very well-coached and disciplined. They did a very good job of that."

Payton may have been correct in his assessment as the Patriots held Graham 0-fer even after Talib left early in the third quarter with a hip injury and never returned.

"It seemed to be pretty consistent," Brees said. "Obviously at times and depending on the situation and personnel group, they did some things to Jimmy and to other guys. Listen, that's football. You know they're going to have a plan for you in every situation, red zone. You've got to find ways to combat it."

Patriots safety Devin McCourtey picked up Graham in one-on-one coverage on many snaps once Talib left the game and said the defense had incentive to shut down Graham.

"All week, we knew. All we kept hearing was, 'Jimmy Graham,' and we knew we'd have to come in and play," McCourtey said. "We'd have to play him tough, and you don't come in and say, 'We just want to contain him.' ... We've got to try to shut him down.

"That's the only way we'll have a chance to win this game, because if he has the type of games he's been having, we'll have no shot. It was a total team effort. Aqib did a great job early. We had a bunch of different guys -- Kyle (Arrington) had a big interception and a big play on the goal line against him. So guys stepped up and played tonight."

A lower left leg injury also slowed Graham after he leapt for a Brees pass late in the third quarter, which turned into an interception. Graham limped off the field after the play as trainers tended to his injury.

Graham returned later in the fourth quarter and played during the Saints' final touchdown drive, but he left the field with trainers after the drive. Payton wouldn't elaborate on Graham's injury, and Graham wasn't in the locker room during the postgame media availability.

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The Most Unstoppable Player in the NFL - NNL Whiteboard

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Belichick on the trouble with Jimmy Graham

FOXBOROUGH – The problem with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, whom the Patriots will see this Sunday in their Week 6 matchup, is that his sheer size and athleticism make him a matchup problem all over the field, says Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Graham stands 6-7, weighs 265 pounds and ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2010. He's caught 37 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns this season. The big tight end has seen the gamut of coverages, but he's still difficult to deal with. Whether defenses treat him like a tight end or a receiver, he's found ways to be successful.

"Treat him like whatever you want, but he is what he is," Belichick said. "He's big, he's fast, very athletic. Excellent ball skills, especially down the field. He can go up and rebound the ball away from pretty much anybody. They throw him a lot of jump-ball type plays. But he's quick, he's a big target. He's definitely a tough guy to cover.

"Everybody's tried everything. Tried to jam him at the line, linebackers on him, safeties on him, double cover him. Each team kinda got their own matchups, but he's seen a lot of different coverages. Man, zone, in and out, short and deep, jammed at the line of coverage. He's seen all of that."

Because of his receiving ability, it's conceivable he could draw the coverage of cornerbacks, which he has seen before, Belichick said.

"He's been matched up differently on different plays," Belichick said. "A lot of times he's split out. He's not always in the normal tight end position. Sometimes he's extended in a receiver type of look, so yeah he's [seen] corners."

The Patriots don't have a player in the secondary who comes close to Graham in size. Aqib Talib, who is 6-1, seems like a logical matchup. But the Patriots' closest defender in height is 6-3 linebacker Jamie Collins, who was a safety in college.

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Jimmy Graham earns historic honor

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham continues to raise the bar for the tight end position.

Graham was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month on Thursday -- the first time a tight end has been so honored in either conference since the NFL started the award in 1986.

Graham caught 27 passes for 458 yards and six touchdowns in four September victories.

"He's a big target. He's extremely athletic. He's got this fire and passion and will to succeed and to work at it. He wants to be great. That's all you want in a teammate and in a target," quarterback Drew Brees said of Graham on Wednesday. "A lot of times you take a player and it's like, 'OK, these are his strengths, but then he's got these weaknesses that we're going to stay away from and we're just going to try to utilize the strengths.' You then encounter certain players like Jimmy Graham and you just say, 'OK, this guy has the ability to have all strengths and no weaknesses.'

"He's not there yet, but he is far outweighed on the strength side than on the weakness side. You can sit there and say, 'Well, there's just not much that we can't do with this guy.' That's a good thing."

Graham ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards, behind only Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (481), and he is tied for the lead in touchdown receptions with Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Graham is one touchdown shy of tying the league record for touchdown catches by a tight end through his team's first five games -- a mark shared by Antonio Gates (2010) and Mike Ditka (1963).

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Jimmy Graham adds post-up game to his TD celebrations


After catching a 27-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of tonight’s Monday Night Football game between the Saints and the Dolphins, former college basketball player and star tight end Jimmy Graham added a bit of an intro to the standard “dunk the ball over the uprights” touchdown celebration.

The “posting up the imaginary defender before dunking” move is now officially in Graham’s repertoire.

We wonder if he worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason to add that post move to his game, or if it just came naturally to him.

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Graham fixed on proving self, not contract

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham stressed again Saturday that he is not concerned about his contract situation and is strictly focused on football -- something that has been working awfully well for the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

The topic of Graham’s contract came up again because of a report by Pro Football Talk earlier in the week that said the Saints had made an offer at some unspecified point but Graham’s camp had not responded.

“I’m not really sure where all of these rumors are coming from, but for me, that whole situation isn’t important to me right now,” said Graham, who is in the final year of his rookie deal. “I know I’m going to keep going out and do what I do. Every Sunday and Monday, I’m going to go out and play football and play to the best of my abilities. The rest will take care of itself.”

When asked about how it’s become an increasingly hot topic among fans, who scream or tweet, “Pay him!” every time he does well, Graham laughed.

“You know, that comment is funny," Graham said. "I get paid every two weeks here. I’m not really sure what everybody is talking about."

“For me, it really is all football,” Graham added. “I’m a very hungry player right now. I feel like I have a lot to show. I’m going to try to do all I can to put the team in the best situation to win. So all the comments and the things that people say doesn’t faze me or get to me. I’m going to go out on Sunday and give all I have.”

Graham made no secret in the offseason about how determined he is to make up for what he considered a down year in 2012. Although he caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns last year, his performance wasn’t consistently up to his standard. He battled a wrist injury all year and led the NFL with 14 dropped passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This year, he certainly appears to be back in peak form. Graham has 23 catches for 358 yards and four touchdowns. He leads the NFL with 19 catches for first downs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has been credited with two drops.

“You know, this season for me is everything about proving the type of player that I am,” Graham said. “I feel like I disappointed myself last year and I wasn’t able to do the things that I wanted to do. I mean, if you look at the stats, some people laugh at it because I had a decent year stat-wise. But as far as putting this team in the best opportunity to win and making the plays that I know I can make … so now I play with every emotion that I have in my body. I play because I feel like I have a lot to prove.”

Graham, who had wrist surgery immediately after last season, said his improved health has a lot to do with his improved play this year. He also said he and quarterback Drew Brees have seemed to lock in together well this year. And he said he’s been fortunate to wind up in single coverage in many situations.

“This offseason is the hardest that I’ve worked in, not only rehab but just on little things, you know, film room,” Graham said. “But I think more than anything, I’m playing with more emotion than I ever have.”

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Jimmy Graham wins NFC Offensive Player of the Week award

NEW ORLEANS —Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Graham caught nine balls for 134 yards and two touchdowns in New Orleans’ 31-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

Defensive end Greg Hardy of the Panthers won NFC Defense Player of the week, and Lions punter Sam Martin took home NFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

In the AFC, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (Offensive), Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (Defensive) and Browns punter Spencer Lanning (Special Teams) won weekly honors.

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NFL U Week 3 Photos

Ray Lewis on the Ravens Sideline.
Redskins S Brandon Meriweather.
Patriots DL Vince Wilfork.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham enter the Superdome through the smoke.
Panthers TE Greg Olsen runs out of the tunnel before Carolina’s game versus the Giants.

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Unstoppable Jimmy Graham snags 2 more TDs

Jimmy Graham caught nine passes for 134 yards with two touchdowns in Sunday's 31-7 Week 3 win over the Cardinals.

The term unstoppable gets thrown around too much. With Graham, it's warranted. The Cardinals tried to use safety Yeremiah Bell on him in the first half and Bell got humiliated on a goal-line jump ball. In the second half, the Cards put top corner Patrick Peterson on him. No matter, as Graham beat Peterson on a slant for a touchdown. Over the last two games, Graham has piled up 19 catches for 313 yards with three touchdowns. His next victim will be the Dolphins on Monday Night Football in Week 4.

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Jimmy Graham not responding to extension offer

Citing multiple league sources, Profootballtalk.com reports the Saints recently extended an extension offer to Jimmy Graham, but Graham's camp has not responded.

Graham is absolutely shredding the league through three weeks, with four touchdowns and 358 yards. His value is at its absolute highest, so the Saints' offer would likely have to blow him away for Graham to sign now. If Graham makes it through the season without an extension, the Saints will likely slap him with the franchise tag. Graham would have a great argument to be tagged as a wide receiver rather than tight end, commanding more money.

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Jimmy Graham on Pace to Break NFL Record

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham put up more ridiculous stats during the Saints' 31-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals, including 9 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. His numbers through three games this season put him well ahead of where he was at this point in 2011 by more than 100 yards receiving.

Here's a look at how Graham's performance so far in 2013 compares to his record-breaking performance in 2011. Will he keep this up? Will this be Graham's best season of his career?

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Jimmy Graham: Absorbing big hits part of his job

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t have much to add Friday to the conversation about whether or not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' safeties were taking dirty shots at Saints players last Sunday. Even though Graham himself absorbed the most vicious one of them all -- a brutal helmet-to-helmet shot from Ahmad Black.

“I know that I play in the noise down there in the seams and down the middle of the field. So, you know, it’s just all of ‘em are hits to me,” Graham said when asked if he was upset by the nature of the Buccaneers' illegal hits against himself and tailback Darren Sproles. “As long as I can get up and keep playing, that’s all I care about.”

Graham certainly did that, finishing the game with a career-high 179 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches.

When asked if he was feeling particularly sore the next morning, Graham said, “I feel pretty much the same every Monday morning. Not so great.”

“Yeah things hurt, obviously,” added Graham, who is listed at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds. “But that’s just football. You know, that’s how it is. It’s a collision sport. So if you expect to go into a game and play fairly decent and not get hit, then you’re very confused. It’s just part of the game, and that’s how it is.”

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Bar high for Jimmy Graham

Geez. What does Jimmy Graham have to do to get noticed? The New Orleans Saints' star tight end had a career-best performance in Sunday’s 16-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with 10 catches, 179 yards and a touchdown. But it wasn’t enough to earn him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors (thanks to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 480-yard, four-touchdown performance).

Worse yet, Graham’s performance barely captured the attention of his own quarterback.

Drew Brees said Wednesday that he’s so used to such efforts from Graham at this point that he didn’t even realize the numbers his go-to guy was racking up Sunday.

“Walking away from it, had you asked me, ‘Hey, what do you think Jimmy’s numbers were today?’ I wouldn’t have thought it was that much. But I guess looking back on it, you start adding it up and you’re like, ‘OK,’” Brees said. “So I guess my point is, not that you have this expectation level, but you are just used to seeing a lot of those plays being made. It’s not like taking him for granted. But I think we all just expect that if we are not putting up 400-plus yards as an offense, score 30-plus points, running the ball well, throwing the ball well, hitting some big plays, doing these things … when those things don’t happen is when you notice.

“When they’re happening, it’s just like, ‘This is what we do.’”

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Jimmy Graham has career day for Saints

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was absolutely too much to handle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Graham caught 10 passes for 19 yards and a touchdown in the Week 2 matchup on Sunday. The yardage mark was a career high (he actually set the career high mark in the first half alone), to go along with a stellar 17.9 average yards per reception.

Graham was the consistent weapon that leaded to the Saints edging out their NFC South rivals. Drew Brees threw for 322 yards and the touchdown, but he also had two interceptions, a rarity for one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Graham provided the only touchdown on the day and without him, the Saints wouldn't have been in a position to kick a game-winning field goal.

Fantasy Impact: Graham was the highest-drafted tight end on average in fantasy football, and this is exactly why. Safeties struggle to keep up with him and linebackers flat-out cant handle him. He's extremely good, and should have more games in this vein (though 179 yards, again, is a career high) and will continue to be a productive fantasy option. He's always a must-start and Sunday was solid confirmation of this.

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Jimmy Graham has 4/45/1 day in win

Jimmy Graham caught four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans' Week 1 win over the Falcons.

A quiet day by Graham's standards, but the score should placate fantasy owners. Drew Brees simply wasn't locking onto any one pass catcher today, targeting seven different receivers at least three times. Graham's seven looks led the team. He remains a man with his own tier atop the tight end ranks.

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#NFLRank: Jimmy Graham at No. 11

The latest installment of #NFLRank is out and the list includes players ranked from No. 11 through No. 20 on both offense and defense.

As you might expect, there are no New Orleans defensive players on the list. But the Saints are represented by one offensive player.

That’s tight end Jimmy Graham, who came in at No. 11.

ESPN Stats & Information: Graham has been targeted 286 times over the past two seasons, tops among tight ends. Graham leads tight ends with 2,292 receiving yards over that span and has 20 touchdowns, second at his position behind Rob Gronkowski.

Yasinskas comment: Gronkowski’s been dealing with some health issues. Graham is healthy after playing most of last year with a wrist injury. That’s why I think this is the year Graham emerges as the NFL’s best tight end.

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Jimmy Graham donates cleats to Fifth Ward Junior High School’s football team

New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham donated new cleats to the entire Fifth Ward Junior High School’s football team this week.

Graham established a relationship with the school last January, when he participated in a NFL Play 60 Super Bowl Challenge event at the school.

“When I was at the Play 60 event, I talked to the students about the importance of team,” said Graham. “I talked to them about how you always have to put the team first and hopefully with these new cleats they can win some games.”

Fifth Ward Junior High School Principal Christopher Oufnac was honored by the gesture from the New Orleans Saints tight end.

“It’s an unbelievable gift he gave to these kids,” Oufnac said. “The kids like them so much they don’t want to get them dirty. They jokingly said they are too nice of cleats to play in.”

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Jimmy Graham struggling in camp with dropped passes

The Saints' tight end has continued to struggle with occasional dropped balls during training camp -- a problem that plagued him last season. Graham dropped two passes Monday, one in team drills and one in 7-on-7 (though one could have been considered a pass break up).

Graham later bobbled a pass but hung on to make the catch in tight traffic for a third-down conversion during team red-zone drills. Physically, Graham has looked very good this summer, and I'm still expecting a monster year from him. But he needs to make sure the drops don't become a habit.

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VIDEO: 2012 New Orleans Saints Yearbook: Jimmy Graham

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Jimmy Graham to recapture 2011 production?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune believes there's "every reason to expect" Jimmy Graham to re-reach his 2011 production after a somewhat disappointing 2012 season.

The fact that Graham's 2012 can be described as "somewhat disappointing" and he still outscored every other fantasy tight end reflects his dominant fantasy football value. Graham is in a contract year, has the NFL's premier playcaller back in Sean Payton, and is 100 percent healthy after battling wrist and ankle problems for much of last season. In 2011, Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 and 11 touchdowns. During that '11 campaign, only four wide receivers -- emphasis on wide receivers -- scored more fantasy points than Graham.

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Ranking the New Orleans Saints' players: No. 2, Jimmy Graham

No. 2: TE Jimmy Graham 

Last Year's Rank: 2

Season: 4; Age: 26; Height: 6-7; Weight: 265

Don't worry. Graham isn't getting snubbed on this list like his stunning omission from this year's NFL Network's top 100 list, which is voted on by players around the league. Of course, Graham had a disappointing year in 2012 -- by his lofty standards, anyway. He led the NFL with 14 dropped passes, according to ESPN Stats and Information (he had 15 according to Pro Football Focus, though that service didn't rank him as the league leader). But even in that "down year," Graham still put up elite numbers for a tight end: 85 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games.

Graham is one of the most dynamic weapons ever to play the position in the NFL. Now he's fully healthy after battling a wrist injury that plagued him all of last season. And he insists that he is "hungrier than ever" to get back to an elite performance level. Throw in the fact that coach Sean Payton is back, and there is every reason to expect Graham's production to be closer to his incredible 2011 level (99 catches, 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns).

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Hernandez, Gronkowski struggles make Jimmy Graham look even better

Sandwiched between tight ends Rob Gronkowski (round two) and Aaron Hernandez (round four) in the 2010 draft was tight end Jimmy Graham.  A third-round pick of the Saints, Graham was the last tight end selected before Hernandez.

The Saints took Graham with pick number 95, and the Patriots took Hernandez 18 spots later.  In between, four receivers were selected — Mardy Gilyard (Rams; no. 99), Mike Williams (Bucs; no. 101); Marcus Easley (Bills; no. 107); Jacoby Ford (Raiders; no. 108).

It’s unknown whether the Saints wrestled with the choice of taking Graham or Hernandez.  The red flags were well known, and Hernandez’s history easily could have been a factor.  But Graham’s limited football career likely was an issue, too.  He played only one year at Miami.  Hernandez was the far more established and experienced player.

Regardless of how the Saints made their decision, they settled on Graham.  Of the three tight ends, he’s the only one still laboring under his rookie deal.

From Gronkowski’s injuries and surgeries and party-boy tendencies to Hernandez’s legal entanglements, Graham is looking like the best of the bunch.  And the Saints need to acknowledge that with a long-term deal.

To his credit, Graham hasn’t groused.  But if the team and the player can’t work out a multi-year contract, a franchise-tag fracas could be coming over whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver, given the number of times he lines up in the slot.

The best way to avoid that outcome would be to get a new agreement negotiated, and the best time to do it would be sooner rather than later.  The cap is a problem for now; according to NFLPA records, the Saints currently have roughly $5 million in total space.  But with all of their draft picks signed, the Saints wouldn’t have to clear much space to do a long-term deal with Graham, since the signing bonus would be spread over multiple seasons.

Graham’s refusal to make a stink, publicly or privately, about his status puts less pressure on the Saints to take care of him.  In turn, however, this attitude proves that Graham is far more worthy of the security than Hernandez, and possibly even more worthy than Gronkowski.

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Saints once faced choice between Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez

NEW ORLEANS -- Jimmy Graham or Aaron Hernandez?

New Orleans Saints officials had their choice of the two collegiate tight ends and other top prospects when it came time to make a selection in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft. Both were available when the Black and Gold went on the clock at No. 95 on the night of April 23.

The Saints ended up taking Graham, a four-year basketball player at the University of Miami who caught the eye of Coach Sean Payton and team officials after playing only one season with the Hurricanes' football team.

Though Hernandez displayed first-round ability in three productive seasons at Florida, he entered the draft as a high risk/reward prospect and fell to the New England Patriots in the fourth round, 18 picks later.

Now we know why. He had issues.

Hernandez, 23, is facing a first-degree murder charge and multiple gun charges after being arrested in the shooting death of semipro football player Odin Lloyd. He remains in jail without bond and already has forfeited tens of millions in potential earnings after being dumped by the Patriots.

His career appears to be finished at the tender age of 23.

Just 26 with plenty of upside, Graham's future is extremely bright.

Already considered one of the NFL's top receiving tight ends after three seasons, Graham is entering the last year of a $2.455 million rookie contract that included a signing bonus of $665,140. He is scheduled to make a base salary of $1.323 million this season.

Yes, he has outplayed his contract (215 catches, 2,648 yards, 25 TDs) and stands to become a very rich man next offseason if allowed to become an unrestricted free agent.

Provided Graham stays on course this season, an educated guess says a deal will be struck before that happens, or, at the very least, team officials will place the franchise tag on him before the start of free agency ensuring he remains in New Orleans in 2014.

Lack of production in 2013 obviously could lower his value. A good season would retain his present value. A blockbuster season could elevate him to rarefied air.


-- The Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year, $40 million contract extension in August 2012 that included a $12.5 million signing bonus, the highest signing bonus paid out to an NFL tight end.

-- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (the 42nd overall pick in 2010) signed a six-year, $53 million extension months earlier in 2012, the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history. That included $16.5 million in guaranteed money.

-- Other high-paid NFL tight ends include San Francisco's Vernon Davis ($23m guaranteed), San Diego's Antonio Gates ($20.4m guaranteed), St. Louis' Jared Cook ($19m guaranteed), Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis ($19m guaranteed) and Seattle's Zach Miller ($17m guaranteed), among others.
So where does Graham fit?

When all is said and done, maybe at the top of the tight end heap, $10 million to $12 million annually in Nw Orleans or elsewhere. Time will tell.

If Graham continues to be deployed in the Saints' high-octane offense as a wide receiver for a high percentage of snaps this season, don't be surprised if Graham's representative (Jimmy Sexton of CAA) tries to get his client WR-type money and not tight end type money at the bargaining table.

For a cap-strapped team like the Saints, the distinction could mean the difference in Graham staying in New Orleans or leaving for greener pastures. The 2013 franchise tag for a tight end was $6m, $10m for a wide receiver.

That, too, is a topic for another day.

Meantime, Graham will continue to freely chase his NFL dream while Hernandez can only dream of becoming free one day.

We know where Graham stood on the Saints' draft board. And while it's unknown where Hernandez stood, Saints officials clearly made the right choice on that April day in 2010, hands down.

Or, in the case of Aaron Hernandez' arrested development, hands up.

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Jimmy Graham: A Tale of Two Seasons

Most Saints fans would consider last season a "down" year for tight end Jimmy Graham. A little ridiculous when you consider he put up 982 yards receiving and scored 9 touchdowns. Still, everything's relative, and compared to his record-breaking 2011 campaign those numbers actually were a drop off.

Which puts Graham at a crossroads of sorts as he looks toward the upcoming 2013 season. Down one path is a bounce back to another freakishly godlike year, complete with 1,200+ yards and 10+ touchdowns. Down the other is a return to normalcy, an above average performance at best with stats that stay within the stratosphere.

And therein lies one of this off-season's biggest questions: Which Jimmy Graham shall we expect to see in 2013? You could also ask the question another way: Was Jimmy Graham's 2011 season an anomaly? Either way, the answer is exactly what Saints fans everywhere are eager to learn this year.

As much as I hate to say it, my gut tells me we won't ever see anything from Graham like we did two years ago, so my confidence is tempered. It's also probably a bit unreasonable to expect. But I'm genuinely curious to know what all of you guys out there think.

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Jimmy Graham snubbed in 'Top 100' list?

When Rob Gronkowski landed at No. 25 on the NFL Network's "The Top 100 Players of 2013," the New England Patriots star also became the list's final tight end to make the cut.

Gronk's inclusion is a no-brainer, but a grievous oversight has bubbled up: New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was left out in the cold.

Graham -- with 85 receptions, 982 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine starts last season -- was deemed less worthy by his peers than the likes of Antonio Gates (No. 73), Heath Miller (No. 97) and Dennis Pitta (at No. 100).

While the "Top 100" holds its own as breezy, offseason fare, Graham's omission reveals its true nature as a raging farce.

Yes, Graham battled injuries last season, but he played through the pain to catch more passes than all but Jason Witten (No. 41) and Tony Gonzalez (No. 47) among the list's tight ends. Pitta, Miller, Gates, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez all caught fewer passes.

Ask the Atlanta Falcons -- scorched for seven receptions, 146 yards and two touchdowns in early November -- if Graham is a top 100 player. Or the Carolina Panthers, who allowed Graham to slash them for nine catches, 115 yards and a touchdown in the season finale.

Graham scored in eight games and had five or more receptions in 11 appearances during a season that required wrist surgery when it was over. Saints coaches are intimately familiar with Graham's versatility. He's used not only as a tight end, but you'll find him split out wide on a regular basis, furnishing the Saints with a field-stretching mismatch.

Entering his contract season in 2013, Graham is betting on a big campaign, but either way, he's fully worthy of the "Top 100." There's no bigger blotch on the player-generated voting results than this.

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Jimmy Graham feels healthy

New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham (wrist) feels like he is back to 100 percent after enduring a wrist injury in 2012 which lingered for most of the season. He was wearing a small brace on his wrist during offseason practices to make sure nothing happened.

Fantasy Tip: Graham still had a productive season in 2012 despite his injury. He is viewed as the slam-dunk No. 1 fantasy TE heading into 2013, especially since he is in a contract year and New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is such a question mark after multiple surgeries.

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Disappointed by his injury-plagued 2012, Jimmy Graham, now healthy, expects better

METAIRIE, Louisiana — Jimmy Graham talks about his performance last season as if it were an enormous disappointment.

Forget that many tight ends would have been pleased to make 85 catches — which led the Saints in that category — for 982 yards and nine touchdowns.

Those totals still represented a drop-off for the 6-foot-7 Graham, who had one the best seasons ever for someone at his position in 2011.

"This is probably the hungriest I've ever been to kind of right the wrongs of last year and to prove what this team can do and maybe hush up some of the naysayers," Graham said. "So for me it's all work and doing as much as I can to be the best player I can."

Graham, a converted college basketball player drafted out of Miami in 2010, became a Pro Bowl tight end in only his season NFL season, when his 99 catches for 1,310 yards 11 TDs helped New Orleans' record-setting offense rack up the most yards ever in a season with 7,474.

The only tight end ever to have more yards receiving in a season than Graham is New England's Rob Gronkowski, who had 1,327, also in 2011.

Graham had hoped he would only get better in Year 3, but was hampered for much of the season by a left wrist injury and also missed one game with an ankle sprain.

Graham was plagued by dropped passes. And while he won't blame it on the wrist injury, for which he wore a brace, quarterback Drew Brees was certain it didn't help.

"He was banged up quite a bit last year in his defense," Brees said. "He's had an offseason now to recover and be on the mend. He feels a lot better."

Graham had wrist surgery after last season. Although he said he is not fully recovered yet, Graham has made several acrobatic catches in non-contact, offseason practices, including a leaping, one-handed grab on a throw to the end zone that delighted fans who flocked to open minicamp practices this week.

"I've been in rehab and I've been getting stronger," Graham said. "Right now I'm almost 100 percent, so going into camp I'll be 100 percent. And it just feels good. It feels good to be healthy finally and to be back playing like me."

In addition to feeling better physically, Graham said he's drawn confidence from a couple other developments. One is that Brees has been working with him throughout the offseason, which did not happen a year ago while the star quarterback was holding out for a new contract.

The other is having coach Sean Payton, who designed the offense, back from his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation of the club.

"It feels like it did two years ago. We are right on pace and guys are learning," Graham said. "I'm definitely excited for what is going to happen this year and for everything to start to count."

Maturity is another factor. For the first time, Graham enters a season as the Saints tight end who has been on the roster the longest. Gone are previous mentors Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas.

"That's definitely different," Graham said. "I've always had somebody there to kind of teach me and to kind of follow them. Now it's a little bit more on my shoulders. ... I'm definitely getting a little older, I'm learning a lot more about defenses this year, and I think that's what is going to help."

Notes: Payton said he has not decided who will call the offensive plays this season. In 2011, he stopped doing it after he was injured in a sideline collision in the sixth game of the season, taking more of an oversight role while the offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael called plays. Last season Carmichael again called all the plays while Payton was suspended, and the Saints' offense ranked second in total yards. "Pete has been invaluable. He has been tremendous," Payton said. "His role will be significant."

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Jimmy Graham 'hungry' to play for New Orleans Saints

Jimmy Graham is coming off a down year.

At least, by his crazy standards. Graham finished 2012 with 85 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns for the New Orleans Saints. Strong numbers, no doubt, but well off the production of his 2011 season, which was one of the greatest ever had by a tight end.

Graham wants to get back to that level.

"I'm a hungry player. And this is probably the hungriest I've ever been, to kind of right the wrong of last year, to prove what this team can do and maybe hush up some of the naysayers," Graham said Tuesday, according to The Times-Picayune. "So for me, it's all work and doing as much as I can to be the best player I can."

A wrist injury plagued Graham all of last season, certainly playing a role in his issue with dropped passes. Graham said he's feeling like himself again after surgery in January.

"Everything's going well," Graham said. "I've been in rehab and I've been getting stronger. Right now, I'm almost 100 percent, so going into camp I'll be 100 percent. And it just feels good. It feels good to be healthy finally and to be back playing like me."

Look out for Graham. He's healthy and motivated, and he's already proved what he's capable of when he gets locked in with Drew Brees. Don't be surprised if he is the game's most productive tight end in 2013.

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PHOTO: Jimmy Graham flies plane over New Orleans


NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is soaring to new heights -- literally.

The Pro Bowl star manned the cockpit in a small plane Wednesday and took a ride over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

You can see him huddled in the front seat -- apparently a bit tight for his 6'7" frame -- of the picture above.

Last week Graham announced he had reached a next level of pilot certificaton.

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Saints' Watson to make more than Graham

The New Orleans Saints apparently view tight end Benjamin Watson as something more than just a backup.

The proof is in his pay.

In a twist of fate, Watson will make more than $700,000 more than what starter Jimmy Graham does in total cash this year. According to numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Watson will earn $2.15 million this season, while Graham will make $1.323 million in 2013.

Anyone else out there thinking about a possible holdout by Graham if he doesn’t get an extension (and a big raise) of a rookie contract he clearly has outplayed?

For the record, Watson’s three-year deal is worth $4.95 million. He got a $1.2 million signing bonus and a $950,000 first-year base salary. Watson’s 2014 salary jumps to $1 million and he has a $250,000 roster bonus and a $50,000 workout bonus.

In 2015, Watson’s salary will be $1.2 million and he also will have a $250,000 roster bonus and a $50,000 workout bonus.

I’ve also obtained the numbers on some other contracts recently signed by New Orleans players. Receiver/special teams player Courtney Roby got a one-year deal worth $905,000. But the Saints designated Roby as a veteran minimum benefit player, meaning his cap figure for this year is just $555,000.

The Saints did a similar maneuver with linebacker Ramon Humber. His one-year deal is worth $740,000. But the veteran minimum benefit puts his cap number at $550,000.

According to my calculations, the Saints are roughly $3.3 million under the cap.

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Jimmy Graham 2012-2013 Highlights

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Jimmy Graham Calls New Secondary Coach Wesley McGriff a Good Fit for Saints

TE Jimmy Grahamicon-article-link was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft with just one year of college football experience.

In that one year of collegiate action at Miami, Graham faced a Hurricane secondary led by Wesley McGriff in practice.

On Monday, the Saints hired McGriff as their secondary coach.

McGriff spent last season as the co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach at the University of Mississippi. McGriff helped the Rebels improve from a 2-10 campaign in 2011 to a 7-6 record in 2012.

Before joining the Rebels, McGriff spent one year at Vanderbilt where he served as defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator after spending four years as Miami’s defensive backs coach.

Graham said he is excited about McGriff joining the Saints and says the 22-year coaching veteran is a great fit for the black and gold.

“Coach McGriff will be a great addition to our team,” said Graham. “His experience and work ethic along with being an excellent teacher will make him an asset to our team.”

Graham said the thing that impressed him the most about McGriff was his ability to develop young defensive backs.

In 2011, McGriff tutored senior Casey Hayward to All-America status at Vanderbilt. The Packers drafted Hayward in the second round of the NFL Draft last season and he finished third in the Associated Press voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading all NFL rookies with six interceptions.

Other notable NFL defensive backs that McGriff has coached on the collegiate level include New York Giants S Kenny Phillips, Green Bay Packers DB Sam Shields, Houston Texans CB Brandon Harris and New York Jets DB Yeremiah Bell.

As excited as Graham is for McGriff’s arrival in the Crescent City, the Saints tight end offered some friendly banter to the newest Saints coach.
“I'm looking forward to seeing frustration on his face the first chance we scrimmage in the redzone,” joked Graham.

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No talks between Saints, Jimmy Graham

Last year, two of the premier tight ends from the 2010 draft got long-term deals.  Neither is named Jimmy Graham.

For now, it looks like Graham won’t be getting a new deal this year, either.

Per a league source, the Saints and Graham currently are not talking.  And there’s no indication that they will.

In 2012, the Patriots were able to entice tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to take long-term deals that paid much more than what they were due to make over the balance of their four-year rookie deals.  And if the Saints had offered such a deal to Graham last year, maybe he would have been inclined to bite.

Now, Graham is a year away from free agency.  As he gets closer to completing his rookie deal, Graham will want something closer to market value.

And while the Saints have the luxury of the franchise tag, a fight could be looming over whether Graham should be tagged as a tight end or a receiver.  In the end, the level will be determined by where he lines up the majority of the time in 2013.

Regardless of Graham’s official position, it’s easy to argue that he should be paid like a top receiver.

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VIDEO: Jimmy Graham Talks Madden Video Games

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Jimmy Graham says everything is going well with injured left wrist

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham tried his best to conceal his injured left wrist from opponents throughout the 2012 season by taping both hands almost exactly the same on gameday. There was no concealing the injury Wednesday afternoon, though.

Graham donned a  black cast on his surgically repaired left wrist during a press conference for the NFL's Play 60 program at the NFL Experience at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Graham was asked to fill in at the Pro Bowl last week, but couldn't because of his wrist injury.

"I had surgery a couple of weeks ago and everything is going well," Graham said. "I'm going to start working out and doing rehab and just managing it for next fall."

Graham didn't go into any other details about the extent of his injury. Graham is entering the final year of his contract in 2013. While the amount of dropped passes Graham endured was alarming, he still towered over most tight ends in 2012 with 85 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns.

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Jimmy Graham's recovery from surgery 'going well'

NEW ORLEANS -- Sharing a stage with the Gronkowski brothers and Andrew Luck, Jimmy Graham easily was the most popular man on the stage at Wednesday's Play 60 event at the NFL Experience.

Logical, given Graham's lofty standing as a hometown hero in the Big Easy. After he spoke to a large gathering of children at New Orleans' massive convention center, we caught up with the New Orleans Saints' star tight end.

Graham has started rehab following surgery this month to repair a lingering wrist injury, saying "everything's going well" in the recovery process. He was asked if he's spoken to Saints coach Sean Payton since his bounty-related suspension was lifted.

"I haven't talked to him yet, I was going to go by his office today, been very busy as you can see," he said. "I'm just glad to have him back. He's our leader. I'm just ready to really sit down and speak with him and see what he did with his time off."

Payton wasted no time tending to business after his reinstatement, quickly firing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive backs coach Ken Flajole. Was Graham surprised by the moves?

"For me, I'm not really into hiring and firing, I just play the game," Graham said. "Sean knows what he's doing, obviously he's in my opinion the best coach in the NFL. He's going to do what's right for the rest of us."

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VIDEO: Jimmy Graham visits winning school for Play 60 event

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Jimmy Graham to Fifth Ward Junior High

Super Bowl 2013 has come to St. Tammany. Fifth Ward Junior High took center stage Jan. 29 when NFL Play 60 Super Bowl Challenge found its way to the tiny community of Bush in northeast St. Tammany Parish. 

New Orleans Saints players Jimmy Graham and Akiem Hicks, as well as current Team Ambassador and former Saints wide receiver Michael Lewis, visited Fifth Ward as part of the event. The school was selected as the grand prize winner in the Play 60 contest and was one of only a handful of area schools that had 100-percent participation in the program.

Play 60 was launched in 2007 and is designed to tackle childhood obesity by encouraging young people to enjoy at least 60 minute of daily physical activity.

Graham arrived at 9:30 a.m. and was greeted by a packed house of students, teachers, parents, school system administrators and more. The Saints standout tight end walked the halls of the school where he gave "High Fives" to each student, stopping briefly to sign a few autographs in the school’s office. Once inside the Fifth Ward gymnasium, Graham spoke to the crowd about fitness, health and nutrition and took time to answer a few of the students’ questions.

When Graham was told that the school won its first football game in 12 years this season, he pledged to buy cleats for the entire squad next season.

“What an amazing blessing that was,” said Fifth Ward Principal Christopher Oufnac.

The opportunity to have Graham speak to his students was equally special, Oufnac said.

"To hear his story, how our school and our community looked so familiar to him, that meant a lot to me and to the kids," Christopher Oufnac said.

Graham grew up in a rural area before finding his way to the University of Miami and, eventually, stardom in the Crescent City.

“When I found out he was coming, it brought goosebumps,” Oufnac said. “To hear his story, how our school and our community looked so familiar to him, that meant a lot to me and to the kids.”

Not even a hiccup in scheduling could affect the school’s excitement. Oufnac said Hicks and Lewis were delayed in reaching Fifth Ward when they accidently wound up at Fifth Ward Elementary in Reserve, La. The fact that the duo still made their way from the River Parishes to rural St. Tammany was not lost on Oufnac.

“How great is that?,” he said. “They wind up at the wrong school, but still came to Bush to see us. What is that, a two-hour drive? My hat’s off to the Saints, the NFL, and the players.”

Hicks and Lewis joined Graham in an interactive session of physical activities with the kids later in the morning. Students rotated through five different stations, where they enjoyed jumping rope, a football relay, a lightweight lifting station, a shuttle run, and a chance to play a Microsoft Xbox hurdling game.

“Watching (Hicks and Lewis) compete in that (Xbox) race, they both wanted to win,” Oufnac said. “They were like the kids. It was intense.”

The excitement doesn’t die down just yet for the Fifth Ward community. On Jan. 30, approximately 160 students will travel to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans where they will participate in the NFL Play 60 Kids Experience. Fifth Ward also received $2,500 in athletic equipment and physical education gear by winning the Play 60 grand prize.

Parish students at Abita Springs Middle, Lancaster Elementary in Madisonville, Pine View Middle in Covington, and Brock Elementary, Mayfield Elementary and Carolyn Park Middle, all in or near Slidell, will also take part in the Play 60 Kids Experience in New Orleans.

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Jimmy Graham on the mend following wrist

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is on the mend after undergoing wrist surgery earlier this month.

The surgery prevented Graham from making a trip to the Pro Bowl as he was a first alternate and Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings got the nod instead after Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons backed out of the game earlier this week.

Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Graham battled through the wrist injury for the majority of the season but never missed a game or a practice because of it. He caught 85 passes for 982 yards with nine touchdowns but Graham led the NFL with 14 dropped passes, perhaps a result of the injury.

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Jimmy Graham had to turn down Pro Bowl after wrist surgery

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had surgery to repair his lingering wrist injury earlier this month, a league source confirmed. As a result, Graham had to turn down the opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl when starter Tony Gonzalez also pulled out of the game with an injury this week.

Graham was the first alternate for the NFC all-star squad. Instead, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph went to Hawaii in place of Gonzalez and Graham.

The exact nature of Graham's surgery is unknown. But he will likely have plenty of time to recover before summer camps and training camp. The Saints revealed late in the 2012 season that Graham had been fighting through the nagging injury for the entire season - though he never missed a game or practice because of the wrist injury.

Graham still had a productive season, with 85 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games played (he missed one game with an ankle injury).
However, he struggled with dropped passes throughout the year. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Graham led the NFL in 2012 with 14 drops.

The wrist surgery, combined with the return of Saints coach Sean Payton, should help inspire a "bounce-back" season for Graham. And if 982 yards and nine touchdowns is a "down" year, then Graham and the Saints should be in awfully good shape. 

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Jimmy Graham dropped 15 of 100 catchable passes this season

Jimmy Graham dropped 15 of 100 catchable passes in 2012.

It's five more drops than any other tight end in the league. The normally sure-handed Graham -- who still led the Saints in catches with 85 -- has a built-in excuse in his season-long wrist woes. He'll have a ton of bounce-back appeal in 2013 with dynamic play-caller Sean Payton reinstated and his wrist presumably returning to 100 percent.

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