It's been weeks since Saints fans were wringing their hands over whether or not the team would sign or lose Jimmy Graham this offseason. With the bold moves Mickey Loomis was making, including the signing of top free-agent safety Jairus Byrd to a huge contract despite virtually no cap room, it seemed like the Saints had everything well in hand.
The star tight end seemed to have lost a bit of his traction in contract negotiations last month, when he when he tweeted his disappointment in the moves the front office has been making this offseason. One mistimed tweet caused quite a bit of an uproar among the team's fan base, especially since a number of fans have blamed the loss of several beloved Saints veterans on Jimmy's demand for more money. Some thought he was being too greedy when they discovered that the team was willing to make him the highest-paid tight end in history, and that he decided to hold out for a difference of what was rumored to be roughly a million dollars per year. Until Tuesday, it seemed like Graham's decision to hold out wouldn't get him anywhere.
After dropping several veteran contracts, and making several free agent signings, it looked like New Orleans had things under control; and many fans assumed Jimmy Graham had lost most of his leverage. After all, he hadn't even appealed his franchise tag designation as a tight end, meaning his contract with the Saints seemed more a matter of "when," and not "if." The Who Dat Nation kept singing the praises of the front office, and even began to rally behind Graham once again when the NFL decided to ban dunking the football over the goalposts. The early offseason bumps seemed to be smoothing out like Canal Street the month before Super Bowl XLVII.
Unfortunately, however, while Loomis was busy doing his job, so was Graham's agent. In a surprise move, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have decided to continue their rebuilding efforts by stealing one of the most powerful offensive weapons in the league from a division opponent.
Shortly after Jimmy Graham was spotted in Florida on Tuesday morning, it was revealed that the Buccaneers had offered to make him one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. The 5-year, 57.5-million dollar contract puts him just above Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has (or had) the fifth highest WR salary in the league. With only $3.5 million (of $11.5 million) guaranteed per year, it seems like Tampa Bay is protecting itself against Jimmy's possible decline after the torn plantar fascia he suffered in 2013. However, no amount of massaging the cap is likely to keep Graham in New Orleans with that offer sitting on the table.
There was always a chance that someone could swoop in and snag the best tight end in the league from New Orleans, even given the steep price of two first round picks. With the recent decline in offseason activity, however, fans had simply been lulled into a sense of security... which now seems a bit premature. While Tampa Bay's new coach certainly needs to do whatever he can to turn the Buccaneers around, the timing of this move was quite unexpected. Particularly with the draft looming on the horizon.
What other surprising news will crop up on this, the first day of April? If there is one redeeming thing about this news, it's that it isn't real. Only four more months until preseason!