Jimmy Graham appears to be poised to rejoin the Saints with a stellar physique, a football focus on a Lombardi Trophy and little, if any, animosity.
Graham, whose remarks were published Wednesday morning by the Saints website, said he didn’t get into football to learn litigation, which has dominated his offseason away from the franchise.
Yet that’s how he’s spent this spring and summer, with his legal team and the Saints arguing whether his new, multi-million contract should reflect his impact as an All-Pro tight end or as one of the league’s top receivers.
On Tuesday, Graham signed a four-year, $40 million contract with reportedly $21 million guaranteed, ending negotiations which started last season and continued through last month’s arbitration ruling — Graham was ruled a tight end.
“Going through an offseason like I have, you learn a lot and grow from it but you stay motivated,” Graham, a two-time Pro Bowler, told the team website. “Being away from it for so long, you realize how much you missed it. It makes you appreciate your teammates, your team, the locker room even more because you miss having that. I am excited to get back in the Dome and hear every single one of our fans scream.”
It’s unknown if Graham, 27, was asked if certain Saints arguments against his position status will affect his willingness to line up away from traditional spots on the field for tight ends.
According to numerous media reports, Saints coach Sean Payton testified against Graham, with the Saints utilizing Graham’s own Twitter page as evidence against him. On his page, he called himself a tight end.
Training camp, which starts next Friday in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, will mark Graham’s first activity with the Saints since the end of the 2013 season. Graham’s deal is structured so the Saints’ available space under the salary cap jumped from $1.7 million to $4.7 million.
While teammates endured humid OTAs and conditioning programs at Saints headquarters, Graham worked out in South Florida with former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and others. He also appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”, participated in a charity sailboat race near Manhattan and took part in a week-long tour throughout the Middle East to visit U.S. troops at military bases.
“It was tough being away from the guys,” Graham said. “The good thing is that the base and group of friends I have here in Miami is still strong. I did the same thing I did during the lockout year. I basically did the same day-to-day routine that I did (in 2011). And after the lockout, I had one of my best seasons I have ever had.”
The Saints selected Graham in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft. At the time, he had played in just 13 college football games. He was better known as a power forward for the University of Miami basketball team.
Graham ended last season with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and league-best 16 receiving touchdowns, statistics which set him up to become the league’s highest-paid tight end.
He said he remains motivated by his Super Bowl aspirations, which he’s reminded of at team headquarters. He arrived in town after the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory.
“When I arrived at the Saints facility as a rookie, the Lombardi Trophy was staring at me in the face,” he said. “It motivated me and remains my main motivation. The contract doesn’t change that.”