If Jimmy Graham has an opinion on whether he should be paid like a tight end or a wide receiver in the event the Saints slap the franchise tag on him, he isn’t sharing it.
Graham on Thursday said it’s not his place to make that distinction. He also said he’s not feeling any anxiety as the debate about that issue heats up around him this offseason, even if Saints fans are.
“I am going to keep training,” said Graham, the Saints’ only All-Pro player from the 2013 season. “I am going to do — and I am going to play — what I am asked to.”
Graham spoke to local media at a charity event hosted by Adidas in New Orleans’ French Quarter to promote the NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center on Sunday. Graham and New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon signed autographs for and took pictures with about 50 children from Kinglsey House, which offers community programs and family services. The event was at the Adidas store in the 300 block of Chartres Street.
Afterward, Graham was asked about his unresolved contract situation. He said he isn’t stressing out about it, wouldn’t indicate exactly where he stood on it and intended to be in good physical shape whenever the matter was finalized because that’s the kind of player he is.
“I’m just standing,” he said, adding that he didn’t know how long contract talks might run. “I take every day one day at a time. I’m just going to wait and see what happens.”
Graham is at the end of the contract he accepted from New Orleans as a rookie third-round draft pick in 2010. He will hit free agency in March if the Saints don’t re-sign him to a new multi-year deal or apply the franchise tag on him.
The Saints said they will hand Graham the franchise tag if they can’t reach a long-term deal, and that would keep him in New Orleans through 2014. Teams can begin using the franchise tag Monday, and free agency begins March 11.
It’s probable, however, that Graham’s camp will argue that the All-Pro should be paid like a wide receiver and not a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag. Graham spent most of his time on the gridiron in 2013 lining up out wide, in the process catching an NFL-high 16 touchdowns and amassing a team-best 1,215 receiving yards for the Saints.
At least one projection estimates the 2014 franchise tag for a tight end will be worth more than $6 million. It’ll be more than $11 million for a wide receiver.
Graham, nonetheless, said that distinction isn’t up to him and that he’d play “whatever” he was told. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis has vehemently said Graham is a tight end. That’s what he was drafted as, and that’s what he’s been to two Pro Bowls as, Loomis said.
Graham said he got advice from Saints quarterback Drew Brees about contract negotiations when they were both in New York the week of Super Bowl XLVIII. In 2012, Brees and the Saints negotiated a $100 million contract for the former Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
Graham said it was “awesome” that Brees had recently climbed atop a table during a guest spot on the Dan Patrick Show and shouted how badly he wanted Graham to return to the Saints.
In an earlier media appearance, Brees had said Graham was a tight end and not a wide receiver, and some speculated that could cause drama between the two and for the Saints.
Graham assured that wasn’t the case on Thursday.
“That’s my guy,” Graham said, referring to Brees. “He always will be.”
Graham also spoke about how difficult it was to see the Saints part ways Wednesday with defensive veterans Jabari Greer, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Will Smith. Graham said he works out year-round with Vilma, a fellow University of Miami alum. He intends to continue doing so to “keep (Vilma) skinny,” he joked.
The Saints released Greer, Harper and Smith, and they announced that they wouldn’t re-sign soon-to-be free agent Vilma in order to duck under a 2014 salary cap New Orleans was reportedly $14 million over, more or less. The departures might have freed up more than $19 million, a step toward having the money to re-up with Graham.
“It’s tough,” Graham said.
In what should calm Who Dats’ nerves, Graham called New Orleans “my city” in an interview with The Advocate’s partners at WWL-TV.
“Not only do I love this city, but I love our fans,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any other fan base better in the NFL or really throughout any sport than there is in New Orleans. They love us through the thick and thin.
Through moments up and down, they’re going to be with us, ... and I always want to be a part of something like that.”