Jimmy Graham agrees to 4-year, $40 million contract with Saints

27-year-old New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has reportedly agreed to a 4-year, $40 million deal with the Saints that will keep him with the team through his 31st birthday. Of the $40 million, $21 million of it is guaranteed money.

The new contract makes Graham, who is going into his 5th season with the Saints, the highest paid tight end in the NFL. The previous highest paid tight end was Rob Gronkowski, who makes $9 million per season.

Graham had recently been denied by an arbitrator to have his position title recognized as being a receiver instead of a tight end. A high quality receiver can make as much as $12 million per season, whereas tight ends generally make $7 million per season if they’re a high caliber player. Of course, then you have guys like Gronkowki making above the $7 million mark at $9m, but still short of what receivers make.

Graham appealed the ruling by the arbitrator and he was still waiting on word from the appeal when he opted instead to sign a new contract with the Saints on Tuesday. The appeal now is meaningless due to Graham having signed a new contract.

The Saints had until 4 p.m. ET today to try and reach a deal with Graham to get him re-signed.
Graham is coming off of a good season in 2013 in which he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards despite dealing with a foot injury through much of the season.

You can make an argument that Graham is making a mistake in signing the 4-year deal, because by not sticking to his guns and holding out to be paid as much as a receiver, he’s going to be losing out on at least $8 million over the next 4 seasons with the Saints, and that’s if he even remains with the team for the entire 4 years of his contract.

To be sure, Graham can become a free agent when he’s 31 and test the market at that time, but it’s highly unlikely that any team is going to be willing to pay a 31-year-old tight end the same money that a top wide receiver is making.

Graham should have opted to play out his last remaining year on his contract with the Saints, and then put himself on the market as a wide receiver for any team to sign him. If no one was willing to sign him as a receiver, then he could have either retired or agreed to sign with a team as a tight end. But I find it very difficult to imagine that a team wouldn’t opt to sign him as a receiver because that’s basically what Graham is.

Graham lines up as a receiver and catches passes like a receiver. He’s just not being paid like a receiver, and that’s the tragedy of this all. The Saints are getting a top flight receiver on the cheap by only having to pay Graham $10 million instead of $12 million+ for 4 years.