One of the most important pieces of New Orleans Saints news continues to be dumbfoundly swept under the rug—Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is headed for free agency after the 2013 season.
Now before you jump out of your seats and scream about how great Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is(which, he is) and how he would never let a player like Graham walk, at least take the time to examine the issue. It’s quietly one of the biggest storylines as we head into the season.
Graham is obviously one of, if not the most important piece on the offense in New Orleans, not to mention him ranking up there as one of the best at his position in the entire NFL. He’s coming off wrist surgery he had to undergo as a result of an injury last season, but it’s doubtful he will miss time.
The problem is, if Graham has another outstanding year (that’s a pretty safe bet) the Saints could have a hard time paying him enough to stay around. As ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas pointed out, New Orleans has the most cap committed to 2014 already at $143 million, meaning the team only has about $5 million left this season.
It’s no secret the Saints have been in cap purgatory for quite some time, but Loomis has done a magnificent job of directing the ship through tough waters so far. The question is, how long can Loomis continue to do this?
It’s quite easy to sit back and say Loomis will get Graham back under contract. After all, pricey veterans such as Jonathan Vilma may have their contracts terminated after the season to clear cap space. Of course, that will result in dead cap space. What happens if the Saints don’t have enough room and Graham’s representatives want to start a bidding war on the open market?
Of course the Saints could slap the franchise tag on Graham. That number this past offseason was just over $6 million, which isn’t all that pricey. However, Graham and his representatives could argue he classifies as a wide receiver and may have a great case. If Graham is classified as a wide receiver his tag cost would be well over $10 million going by last year’s numbers.
Perhaps the reason this hasn’t been a major news story is Graham’s exceptional handling of the questions so far. As ProFootballTalk points out, Graham has not said a peep about his contract situation and instead focuses on nothing but the team’s future:
“Everything is going well,” Graham said. “I’ve been in rehab and I’ve been getting stronger. Right now I’m almost 100 percent. Going into camp, I’ll be 100 percent. It just feels good. It just feels good to be healthy finally and back playing like myself. . . . Now I am healthy and just looking to the future and looking to get back in the playoffs.”
Either way this has to become a major story at some point. It’s strange most aren’t talking about it, but it would be foolish to take Graham’s status with the team for granted. This story is going to evolve as the season wears on until we receive final word on whether he’ll be with the team in 2014. It’s certainly something to watch.