A day after Saints All-Pro Jimmy Graham filed a grievance through the NFL Players Union that he should be paid $12 million as a wide receiver and not about $7 million as a tight end under a 1-year franchise tag that the team gave him, New Orleans General Manager Mickey Loomis said in a radio interview that he had no hard feelings.
Loomis told WWL Radio on Thursday that he couldn't blame a pro football player for seeking the best deal possible.
"That's the business," he said with a little more than an hour before the start of the 2014 draft. He added it was natural for Graham to deploy every tool available to him.
Last season, the final one on his rookie contract from 2010, Graham led the Saints in receiving yards (1,215) and touchdown receptions (an NFL-best 16). He spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, but the team handed him a nonexclusive franchise tag that both prevented him from becoming the most-sought unrestricted free agent and labeled him a tight end, the position at which he was drafted and has been to two Pro Bowls.
Immediately, there was speculation that he might file a grievance through the players association to be classified as a wide receiver, given the massive boost in compensation that could potentially bring, depending on the decision of a third party. Wide receivers are due about $12.3 million under 2014 franchise tags.
USA Today noted that no hearing date for the grievance had been set but presumed it would be expedited.
During a press conference Wednesday, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis was asked about whether there were any updates on Graham. The GM replied that there were none, and the initial USA Today report was published minutes later.
The nonexclusive tag permits Graham to talk to other teams but gives the Saints a chance to match any offer he’d want to accept. If the Saints don’t match, they would receive two first-round draft picks from the signing team. That might explain the timing of the filing of Graham’s grievance, word of which circulated the day before the first round of the 2014 draft.
If Graham signs the tag and plays under it with the Saints, he would be given a one-season deal given to franchise players at his position in the previous five years. At the center of the grievance is precisely what Graham’s position is.
The good news for the Saints is that Graham would not even play under the tag if he and the team can agree on a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline. Any ruling by the third party in regards to the grievance would give the winning side leverage in arguing how much money Graham deserves in contract negotiations.
The Saints all offseason have said that is their goal as it concerns Graham, who many think will ultimately get a contract that pays him around $10 million annually and makes him the highest-paid player ever listed as a tight end.
Graham, for the record, was not the tight end who ran the most pass routes in 2013 as a receiver. That distinction belonged to the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez (now retired), ESPN Stats and Information reported.
But even his own teammates have come out and said it’s an antiquated notion to define Graham under any one traditional position.
“You don’t face too many tight ends or wide receivers that possess the play-making abilities he has,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton told SiriusXM NFL Radio recently.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Graham is “a hybrid.”
Graham, during a community appearance in New Orleans in February, was asked whether he believed he was a tight end or a wide receiver.
He responded: “I am going to do — and I am going to play — what I am asked to.”