In light of the recent ruling by Stephen Burbank to affirm Jimmy Graham's Tight End Franchise Tag, I was surprised to read that the Saints are only offering a 9.5 million/year contract. If this is indeed the case, then I'm not at all surprised that the "Saint's haven't reduced [their] offer to Graham" (title of article) as anything lower would be the equivalent of Gronkowski's (9 million/year).
This, in my mind, is an absurdly low offer and, if it is indeed the case, Jimmy is absolutely in the right to reject it.
The only reasoning I could find for such an offer would be the increased leverage acquired by the Saints Organization in the wake of the Burbank ruling. However, even with the added leverage, 9.5 million is nothing but a ridiculous low-ball offer.
First, I want to preface my argument with the acknowledgement of two separate issues in the Graham Negotiation. The first issue is of the franchise tag. The second issue regards the actual contract that follows.
The Franchise Tag
In regards to the first issue, I completely agree with Burbank's ruling -- Graham is and should absolutely be tagged as a Tight End. The Franchise tag structure was established well before Graham and thus should be complied to unless otherwise altered. Further, there should be no exception made in Graham's individual case despite the Tight End position being one of rapidly increasing value. Thus, I have no problem with Burbank's ruling and fully acknowledge Graham as a Tight End. Even more, I believe that Graham ought to only be paid the 7 million dollar Tight End figure if no deal is reached before July 15th.
The Actual Contract
A Low-Ball Offer
Now in turning to the second issue, it is immediately apparent that is contingent upon the first. In light of Burbank's ruling (which again I presume to be correct) there is undeniable shift in leverage to the Saint's organization. The Saint's can now tag Graham for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons for less per year than a long-term contract and with no commitment for the long-term. This puts a lot of pressure on Graham in that not only will he be making less than any contract the sides reach (even the 9.5 million) but if he is injured he is guaranteed nothing beyond the year.
I then would not dispute that Jimmy Graham should be tagged as a Tight End or that the Saint's have a notable increase in leverage. The argument I am making however, is that even taking these as givens, a 9.5 million figure is still a low-ball offer. If all Graham gets is a 9.5 million figure, I would not be surprised for Graham to play out his two years at ~8 million/year and then walk to get his fair market price -- presumably in the 12 million dollar/year area. Why wouldn't he? If he is making only ~1.5 million less a year for two years though subsequently making 2.5 million more/year in the long-term he seems he would advantage from doing so. The only argument against it would be that is a high-risk, high-reward approach -- that is, if he is injured or his production steeply declines in those two years then that long-term contract may never come to fruition. Still, it seems a viable option in the face of only 9.5 million/year because he worth much more.
What is Graham Actually Worth?
As you can see this Low-ball argument hinges on Graham being worth much more -- I assume around 12 million/year. I believe that he is. Perhaps the most compelling argument against that notion would come from Larry Holder's recent article arguing that Jimmy Graham "doesn't fit the bill" in regards to top Wide Receiver pay. He comes to the conclusion by stating that Graham doesn't have Wide Receiver production when facing cornerbacks. I think this is an inaccurate conclusion.
Look at Holder's data:
-Against Cornerbacks: 40 Targets, 22 Completions, 55% Completion Percentage, 260 Yards, 11.8 YPC, 4 Touchdowns, 1 TD per 10 targets
- Against Non-Cornerbacks: 115 Targets, 68 Completions, 59.1 Completion Percentage, 1,007 yards, 14.8 YPC, 12 Touchdowns, 1 TD per 12 Targets
Couple of points. First, why is anyone surprised that Graham's stats are better against Non-Cornerbacks than Cornerbacks? Would that not be the case with any pass-catcher -- Wide Receiver or Tight End. Obviously, when matched up against a Linebacker vs. a Cornerback, any player X's stats will be better against the Linebacker. What is important here is to look at Graham's stats against Cornerbacks in particular -- that is what determines his proficiency against defenders that Wide Receivers encounter. As you can see, on average, Graham is still proficient against Cornerbacks even in this small sample size. Sure, by looking at the data you could come to the conclusion that Graham against Cornerback stats are worse. Again, they should be comparatively worse against Non-Cornerbacks, as they would for any player. What's more, they also should not be as high by virtue of Graham lining up against Non-CBs 2.5X more often.
Further, it is incorrect to say Jimmy Graham is shut-down or ineffective against Cornerbacks on average as:
A. Any player is comparatively worse in comparison to Non-CBs
B. He was still proficient against CBs on average
C. The lesser magnitude of the stats (not counting averages) can be primarily attributed to encountering CBs at a 2.5X lesser rate
Now what some correctly do point out is that Jimmy Graham gets shut-down or is rendered ineffective by very good Cornerbacks. This is true, as you can see in the New England game, Aqib completely contains Graham. Additionally, Sherman and Thurmond handle Graham in the Seattle games as well (with Safety help mind you). Those that point to the week 12 Atlanta game or the Week 10 Dallas game or overlooking the fact that he only encountered a Cornerback 3 times in either game (thus, he was primarily defended by Non-CBs). So what does this mean? It is true that very good, if not elite Cornerbacks, can shut-down or render him ineffective. From here then, can we get to the conclusion that Jimmy Graham is not worth Top-5 wide-receiver money? Not at all.
I don't believe so, and I think if you ask any NFL GM their opinion they wouldn't hesitate to throw money at Graham given the opportunity. I think any player would love for Graham to be on the team as evidenced by his top-10 placement in the NFL's Top 100. I think the only time Graham is rendered completely ineffective is when opponents get their best coverage defender to mirror him the entire game. That is the definition of game-planning around a player. While Graham takes away an opponent's best defender that inevitably leads to more opportunities for the entire offense as a whole. He truly is a match-up nightmare that is best quelled by the opposing defense's best player.
I then believe it is the case that Jimmy Graham does deserve top Wide Receiver money, and by that I mean top-5, because what all those calling out for 10 million/year paired with the accusation that he's not a top-WR might not realize that's still Top-7 WR money. Regardless, he's getting top-WR money. I'm just saying it should be Top-5 WR money and for good reason. His production paired with the upcoming cap expansion over the next few seasons, will make even a 12 million/year figure look like a bargain, just as the Brees' 20 million/year figure doesn't look nearly as intimidating as it did then.
Now with all the said we have the following:
- The Saint's low-ball 9.5 million dollar offer
- Graham's ~12 million dollar fair market price
With the acknowledgment and affirmation of Burbank's recent decision, we must also factor in the Saint's new found leverage. However even with that leverage it would compel Graham to settle for nothing less than 10.5 million, and probably somewhere closer to 11 million, but surely no where near 9.5. If the low-ball 9.5 million/year offer is the case and stands, I think Graham might be better off crossing his fingers for two years in hope of ascertaining the fair market figure he really deserves.