Listening to Saints coach Sean Payton speak Wednesday, it didn’t sound as if he was holding out for the unexpected: that Jimmy Graham, his All-Pro tight end, would show up for voluntary offseason workouts without his contract situation resolved.
The Saints also had not decided whether they’d exercise a fifth-year option on the contract of running back Mark Ingram like they had with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan two days earlier, ahead of a May 3 deadline for such transactions, Payton said before participating in the pro-am at TPC Louisiana on Wednesday.
About Graham and the start of the volunteer conditioning program, which it wasn’t believed he’d attend, Payton remarked: “It’s pretty normal. I think everything the first week is pretty much as expected.”
Then, in regard to Ingram, Payton said: “We’ve got time to do all of that, so there’s nothing we’ve decided permanently with that.
“It’s pretty common with the (collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players union) to at least have that flexibility.”
The team option on Ingram’s contract has entered the collective conscience of Saints fans more recently, but Graham’s saga has been a dominant offseason storyline.
The Saints placed Graham under a one-year, $7.05 million franchise tag after he led the team with 1,215 receiving yards and the NFL with 16 touchdown catches in 2013, the last season on the rookie deal he accepted in 2010.
Yet Graham — the Saints’ lone first-team All-Pro selection last season — would not even play under the tag if he and the Saints can agree to terms on a new long-term deal for him. Most expect that deal would make him the highest paid tight end in NFL history by paying him somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million annually.
The Saints have said finalizing that deal is a matter of time, though they’ve not committed to a firm date beyond expressing a hope that it happens by July 15.
That’s the deadline to sign Graham to a multi-year deal. Failing that, he can only sign the franchise tag.
Graham is not considered under contract until he signs either a new deal or the tag.
Meanwhile, the deals Ingram and Jordan got as rookie first-round draft picks in 2011 were for four seasons — but under the collective bargaining agreement adopted that year, the Saints can exercise a team option to keep them under contract for a fifth season.
Jordan’s base salary in 2015 will be about $6.79 million, or $5.9 million more than it was in 2013, when his 12.5 quarterback sacks were the fifth most in the NFL and second in the NFC. His base salary in 2015 will be $5.53 million more than it’s supposed to be this year.
Picking up Ingram’s option would reportedly cost the Saints about $5.21 million, or about $4.16 million more than the running back’s base salary was in 2013 and $3.82 million more than it’s supposed to be this year.
Despite that pair of issues, Payton told reporters he was pleased with how things stood Wednesday, the third day of an offseason program that’s set to phase into no-contact, on-field drills after two weeks.
He said his players had been informed of key dates, including an Aug. 8 preseason opener at St. Louis and a July 24 start to training camp at The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia. Otherwise, they were mostly focused on keeping in shape.
“There’s so much time for football and Xs and Os and all of those other things,” Payton said. “Really, it’s just encouraging the way the weight room looks.”
Payton also mentioned that he and his assistants fancied that the draft — usually held in April — was pushed back to May 8-10 this year.
“It’s beneficial to us,” Payton said. “For the staff, it’s additional film.”