DISCLAIMER: When talking about money in this article, do not think of it in the terms you or I would. Try to put yourself in the mind of a player and think about it on a peer to peer level.
There has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Graham and the unrestricted free agent tag the Saints just placed on him. After placing the tag Friday, February 28th, the NFL Management Council decided Graham would receive the Tight End designation as opposed to the WR designation he was hoping for. This was not unexpected and as I’m sure you’ve heard, the difference between these two designations is about 5 million dollars. Graham and his agent will now file a grievance with the Council stating he should receive the WR tag due to the fact that he only lined up next to the offensive tackle 33% of his plays. The other 66% Graham was in the slot or split out.
I’m not sure what the Management Council will decide and I see both sides’ arguments. I’m not here to talk about that, rather I would like to lay out the case for a player in Graham’s situation and why he feels he deserves the WR tag or ideally a long term contract worth 12 million dollars a year.
Some people want to say Drew Brees makes Graham, and that without #9, Jimmy would not be nearly as good. While there is no doubt in my mind Graham’s stats would suffer with a lesser quarterback, I believe their relationship to be much more symbiotic than it appears on the surface. In Drew Brees’ eight starting seasons prior to Graham’s arrival in New Orleans he threw for 5,000 yards one time. In the three seasons Graham started, Brees has thrown for at least 5,000 yards every year including setting the then NFL single season record with 5,476 yards in 2011. In the same eight starting seasons BG (Before Graham) Brees’ single season TD high was 34 touchdowns, which he achieved twice (in ’08 and ‘09). In the three seasons since Graham’s arrival Brees has thrown for 46, 43, and 39 touchdowns. Finally, in Brees’ 12 seasons as a starting NFL quarterback he has achieved two of his highest three passer ratings since the coming of Graham.
I think these numbers make a strong argument for keeping this dynamic duo in tact in order to see how far they can push their success, while both are in their physical prime. Also, I believe these numbers undercut the argument that Jimmy doesn’t deserve more money, because Brees is the only reason he is doing so well. If you paid Brees, because of his numbers, Graham deserves that as well.
READ MORE: Kristian: Graham's tag is non-exclusive... the plot thickens!
Let us now take a quick look at Graham’s numbers over the past three years in which he has started and see how he stacks up against the top receivers in the game. These numbers are the key to understanding why Graham wants to get paid so much. If you take a look at the top ten average salaries of WR’s in the NFL, two players make 16 mill average--Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, and Percy Harvin all make between 10 to 12 mill average. Finally, DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, and Brandon Marshall all make about 9 mill average per year.
This is an elite group of the NFL’s most talented receivers, yet none of them have eclipsed Graham in TD receptions and only 3 players have caught for more yards over the last three seasons. These are the main two stats a receiver gets paid for, yet even the almighty Calvin Johnson has 33 TDs to Graham’s 36. If you were outperforming everyone around you, yet they were getting paid quite literally 10 times the amount you are, wouldn’t you want to file a grievance?
This brings me to my final point…Graham’s deserves a good pay day as much as any player in the league. He played all 4 years of his rookie contract at an all-pro level while never rocking the boat and never complaining. Look around the league and you can find multiple examples of young players, who have accomplished much less, arguing for raises and extensions (i.e. Terrance Knighton and DeSean Jackson). Graham kept his head down and worked his tail off. He played hurt and not only made sure he was always available, but #80 consistently produced.
I think it would be a bad idea for the Saints to try and push Graham to play under the franchise tag, because it offers the player no security and could lead to some feelings of ill will towards the organization. A player competes during their first contract with the expectation that if they are successful, they will receive their big pay day when their second contract rolls along. The franchise tag can put that contract in jeopardy. If you need an example, look no further then former Cowboy OLB and current free agent Anthony Spencer. Spencer had a great year in 2012. A year so impressive it led Dallas to slap him with a 9 million dollar franchise tag. However, going into 2013 Spencer got hurt and required micro fracture surgery. This is an operation that can be detrimental to a player’s career (Darren Sharper and Jonathan Vilma were never the same after theirs). Spencer is now 30 years old and will most likely never get that big contract he worked for all those years.
I hope it is now obvious why Graham would file a grievance, and I hope you can perhaps understand how his agent Jimmy Sexton could argue that Graham deserves 12 mill a year. This is not a case of Graham being selfish, this is a case of a player trying to get as much as possible for the performance he put on the field. Graham does not need to feel any type of loyalty to the Saints. There should be no “hometown discount.” After all, ask any player in the league…when your usefulness to the team is up, there is no loyalty coming from the other side.