While all eyes in the sports world this week have been on a certain NBA free agent, one of the top 2014 NFL free agents technically remains on the market, and two important deadlines are looming for Jimmy Graham and the Saints. The two sides have until July 15 to work out a long-term agreement for the franchise player. If no multiyear contract is agreed upon by that point, Graham can only sign a one-year deal with New Orleans.
Additionally, Graham has a 10-day window to appeal the decision made by arbitrator Stephen Burbank, who ruled that he is a tight end rather than a wide receiver, meaning his one-year franchise tag is worth $7.035MM rather than $12.312MM. Burbank’s decision came down on July 2, which would suggest Graham and the NFLPA would have to file an appeal by tomorrow, prompting a three-person appeals board would review the case. However, a source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that Graham’s camp believes the deadline actually comes on Monday, since the Saints star received the ruling on July 3, and the league office is closed on Sunday.
We heard on Monday that contract talks between Graham and the Saints were expected to resume this week, and it seems that has indeed happened. However, according to Florio, those discussions have been moving slowly, and the two sides don’t appear on the verge of reaching a deal.
The pair of deadlines could provide an interesting predicament for both sides as Tuesday’s deadline approaches — if Graham’s camp files an appeal by Monday (or by tomorrow, depending on when that deadline actually arrives), a final decision on his positional designation likely won’t be made until after July 15. As such, if the two sides don’t come to an agreement by Tuesday, the Saints risk Burbank’s decision being overturned, meaning they’d be on the hook for a much larger franchise salary for Graham in 2014.
Complicating matters further is the fact that, since he received the non-exclusive franchise tag, Graham is still technically a free agent, albeit a restricted one. If another team is willing to give up two future first-round picks, it could sign the 27-year-old to an offer sheet and hope New Orleans decides not to match it, and recent reports have indicated a few teams haven’t ruled out this possibility.
At last word, according to Florio, the Saints’ offer to Graham was in the $9.5MM per year range, which would be enough to make him the highest-paid tight end in the league, but is nowhere near the $12MM annual figure he was initially seeking. We’ll have to wait to see whether the two sides find a common ground by Tuesday, and also whether Graham’s camp appeals last week’s franchise positional ruling, which would throw another wrench into the negotiations.