The franchise tag battle between the New Orleans Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham is just starting to heat up. According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Graham is not reporting to the team at this time, and the Saints "won't see him for a while." He has yet to sign his franchise tender.
SB Nation NFL
SB Nation NFL
The biggest issue is the difference between the wide receiver and tight end franchise designations. Graham was tagged as a tight end, which would pay him $7.03 million. The wide receiver tag would cost the Saints $12.1 million. Graham is expected to file an appeal to the league to be considered a receiver, taking the decision out of the Saints' hands.
In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis said that this is a unique situation, but he remains hopeful that the two sides can come to an agreement, via Pro Football Talk:
"These negotiations are always a process, and Jimmy's been a great player for us for the last four years," Loomis said. "Look, I had hoped and I'm sure he had hoped we'd come to some conclusion on a longer-term deal before this. But we haven't yet, and hopefully we will. . . . We'll just let it play out, and I'm sure we'll get something resolved."
Given the evolving nature of tight ends, there have been rumors in the past about one wanting to be paid like a receiver, but this is the first time a player will actually go through with it. Last year, Jared Cook said he would fight the tight end designation if the Tennessee Titans franchised him. They ended up letting him go in free agency and he later signed with the St. Louis Rams.
Graham isn't the only franchise player planning to hold out. Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo hasn't signed his tender and likely won't do so for a while. He's still hoping to work out a long-term deal with the Redskins, but for now is scheduled to make $11.4 million in 2014. Both Graham and Orakpo were given the non-exclusive tag, meaning other teams are free to negotiate with them and their original team can match any offer. Otherwise, the offering team must give up two first-round picks.
Orakpo was tagged as a linebacker, but it's unknown if he wants to pursue the defensive end designation, which would give him about $2 million more. There is precedent in this situation. In 2008, Terrell Suggs and the Baltimore Ravens disputed whether he was a linebacker or defensive end. They agreed to something in the middle, creating a new position called "defensive end-linebacker" and bumping his salary from $8.065 million to around $8.5 million.
With the franchise tag deadline passed, it's now a waiting game for Graham, Orakpo and their respective teams. The Saints could avoid any further drama by coming to a long-term deal with Graham, but they never got close in negotiations before slapping the tag on him. He's not likely to attend spring workouts, and this story could very well drag on into training camp.