New Orleans Saints fans' nervous glances towards the clock are increasing by the minute.
The Saints have until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday to ink star tight end Jimmy Graham to a long-term contract. If the two sides can't come together by then, Graham will have to decide whether he'll play under the one-year, $7.053 million franchise tag or sit out the season.
For those in New Orleans biting their fingernails, take solace in reports that the two sides are expected to come to an 11th-hour deal. Marc Sessler of NFL.com predicts a deal will be reached that makes Graham the highest-paid tight end in the league.
That would be a karmic victory for Graham, who lost roughly $5 million of potential contract money when an arbitrator ruled earlier this month that he should be tagged as a tight end instead of a wide receiver. After the Saints slapped Graham with the tag in March, the star insisted that his production level and positioning on the field meant he should be tagged as a wideout, which carries a one-year salary of $12.3 million.
UPDATE 1:50 p.m. ET: Contrary to what just about everybody was reporting at the time, Graham has officially appealed the ruling that stated he'd be paid as a tight end and not a wide receiver, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. In filing this appeal, Graham either thinks he can win it, or he's simply trying to buy time to hammer out a long-term contract with the team. Any potential deal would likely make Graham the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.
Graham isn't the only one affected by Tuesday's deadline. Below is a list of franchised players who must sign a long-term contract or play under the tag. Not included are Alex Mack and Nick Folk, who have already inked long-term deals with the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets, respectively.
The Carolina Panthers defensive end has other worries on Tuesday: that also happens to be the day he'll appear in court to stand trail for two assault charges. It's highly unlikely that the team will risk signing him before knowing the outcome of the trial, and there have been no reports that the two sides are even in negotiations. Expect Hardy to be play out the $13.12 million franchise tag.
Though the Washington linebacker has publicly stated he wants a long-term contract, it doesn't look the team is willing to give him one just yet. Judging from comments made by new head coach Jay Gruden in March, the club wants Orakpo to prove he can be more consistent in 2014.
"We'd like to get him here for as many years as we can, but right now I wouldn't mind letting him play out this franchise tag and see what happens," Gruden told CBS Sports. "He's a talented player. I think he can do a little bit better."
Worilds technically received the transition tag from the Pittsburgh Steelers instead of the franchise tag, but the end result is the same: he has to sign a long-term contract by 4 p.m. Tuesday or play under a one-year, $9.75 deal in 2014. The latter option seems the most likely. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last month that Worilds has already rejected a multi-year offer and that the Steelers "will go no higher."