The Saints placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jimmy Graham, setting in motion the crucial stage of Graham's contract negotiations.
Under the specifications of the non-exclusive tag, Graham is now free to negotiate with any team in the league. Should he sign a contract with a new team, the Saints, if they choose not to match the offer, would receive two first-round draft picks as compensation for losing Graham.
Likely before any (meaningful) negotiations take place, however, there is the issue of whether Graham will be designated as a tight end or a wide receiver. That decision will come at the hands of an NFL arbitrator who will, for all practical purposes, define the salary demands Graham will eventually make.
Either way, Graham is going to command a large contract. Testing the market will clarify Graham's true value, and it remains to be seen who will pursue (negotiate with) Graham.
For whatever reason, the conventional wisdom right now seems to be this: no team will pursue Jimmy Graham because the combination of signing him to a big contract and giving up two first-round picks is unreasonable.
(If it matters, this has been prevalent on message boards, twitter, and in the media.)
Not gonna happen, they all say. Dismissed as even possible. Completely implausible that some team will make a play for Graham.
The faulty assumption is two-fold here: 1.) that it would be a "mistake" for another team to sign Graham and surrender two picks to do so (would it be?); 2.) that no owner/GM would be "dumb enough" to surrender two picks and give Graham a big contract (would that be "dumb"?).
Yet year after year we see NFL teams make risky, and many times crazy, decisions. Somehow though, when it comes to Jimmy Graham--because he's overrated or something--no team would even consider the idea. Preposterous, they say!
But then ...
* The Seahawks traded three picks for Percy Harvin: a first, a third, and a seventh.
* The Colts gave up a first-round pick for Trent Richardson, a player far less valuable and accomplished than Graham.
* The Raiders traded first- and second-round picks for a then 32-year old Carson Palmer.
* The Jaguars drafted a fucking punter in the third round of the 2012 draft.
* The Falcons traded five--FIVE!--picks for Julio Jones: a swapped first, a future first, a second, a third, and a fourth.
So there's no way any team will pursue Graham because the compensation will be too steep? Is that the logic?
Sorry, but that logic isn't exactly airtight.
Jimmy Graham is 27 years old, with a lot less football mileage on him than most of his peers. He's one of the league's very best offensive weapons. He's scored the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL over the past three years. During the same timeframe, he's fourth in receptions and eighth in yards. He's #1 in all of the aforementioned categories for tight ends during those seasons. His prime years are likely ahead of him.
Ridiculous is the notion that not one team will make a serious run at signing Graham. Is it likely to happen? Maybe not. But it's certainly a possibility given Graham's production, age, unparalleled athleticism, work ethic, and the existing precedents as mentioned above.
You think, say, the Packers and their $35 million in available cap space won't wrack their brains to find a way to land Graham?
Granted, some team will have to pony up a significant amount of money to sign him (in addition to giving up two first rounders).
But the salary cap just went up by $10 million this season, mitigating the impact of Graham's contract on the 2014 cap. Additionally, the salary cap is expected to rise again in 2015. Considering teams that are already under the cap--a few of them far beneath--and with respect to the cap increase, some teams out there will have a lot of money to spend.
Some of those teams include Oakland, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami, Green Bay, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, and the Jets. All of these teams have between $20 and $60+ million in available cap space.
Yet none of them will go after Graham?
This assumption (that no one will pursue Graham) might also be tied to a growing, yet moronic, notion that Jimmy Graham is somehow overrated. Or soft. Or a product of the system. Or easy to TAKE OUT OF THE GAME! Or some other bullshit nonsense like that.
In real life, Jimmy Graham has been one the NFL's very best pass-catchers for three straight seasons. He's played through injuries. He's been a model teammate. Yet now that Graham is in line for a contract commensurate with his value, he's suddenly an unnecessary luxury.
This paranoid line of thinking has led the most querulous of Saints' fans to prefer Graham be signed away in exchange for two first-round draft picks. And that, of course, is related to this weird fetishization of the draft as an all-encompassing panacea for the Saints' needs.
Sure, two first-round picks might be preferable if every little thing goes right. But it doesn't usually work out that way.
I'll take the proven commodity (you know, the guy who's an all-pro, the guy who's caught more touchdowns than anyone else over the last 48 games) instead of unknown, future potential.
This especially rings true considering Drew Brees's age, and the shrinking opportunities to win another Super Bowl in the next few seasons. Removing Graham--a young player on the Saints' league-oldest offense--robs the teams of its best weapon at the worst possible time.
With the Saints' wide receivers aging and under-producing in 2013, losing Graham would further hamper a Saints' offense already in need of another high-quality receiving option.
If some other team extends to Graham an offer that the Saints can't (or won't) match, then so be it. The worthy compensation will assuage the loss.
That, in my opinion, is not the preferable outcome though.
The preferable outcome is retaining Graham, one of the NFL's best players.
More importantly, if the Saints' goal is to win the Super Bowl in 2014, then signing Jimmy Graham would be a good place to start.