Rabalais: Jimmy Graham glad contract squabble with Saints over

Jimmy Graham stood in the bright West Virginia sunshine Friday and uttered five words, five little words that could have saved all those on the New Orleans Saints’ planet and in its orbit a lot of trouble if he’d said them five months ago:

“I’m an all-pro tight end,” Graham said.

Really? That’s it? Months of speculation and testimony and litigation over whether Graham was a tight end or a wide receiver or some kind of hybrid vehicle Drew Brees can jump in and steer to the Big Roman Numeral Game in February compacted into one simple statement.

He’s a tight end. All-pro, that is.

Graham’s words seem to reflect the way he wants to view the world and his place in it. Uncomplicated, uncluttered, and definitely devoid of Aqib Talib-shaped sticky wickets.

In his first major news conference since he and the Saints came to terms earlier this month on a four-year, $40 million contract, Graham all but filled his chest with clean mountain air and exhaled a huge sigh of relief that this grievance, this dispute, this messy and very public dust up with his home franchise is finally over.

“It’s a tough process,” Graham said after the Saints’ first training camp practice session. “It really is. You don’t get into football to get into that. You never really see the business side of it. You never experience litigation. It was an eye opener.”

It really shouldn’t have been since you consider that Graham was trying to angle for millions more than he even got by arguing that he was a wide receiver and not a tight end. This made for enormous news, some of which apparently displeased Graham during his forced separation from the Saints based on the way he felt some aspects of the story were inaccurately reported.

Graham should have expected relentless attention over this whole issue. It was precident setting for NFL player/team relations and he’s a game-changing kind of player, no doubt.

Almost as bad as all the unwanted attention for Graham was not knowing when and if a deal would be done. His anxious and unsettled offseason forced him to miss OTAs and precious bonding time with teammates new and old.

Graham made himself ready to go. He just never knew when he would get the “go” or “no go” for launch.

“Nothing really happened until the end there,” Graham said of the deal that was consummated with just hours to go before the July 14 deadline. “Coming to the last 12, 18 hours I was up until two in the morning.

“It was prepare to be here (Thursday) or prepare to be here a lot later. I was prepared to do both. I moved to New Orleans and everything.”

What Graham really wanted, and eventually got, was a satisfactory deal with the Saints. Yes, he wanted his millions, and the fact that he is now the highest-paid tight end on the Saints’ or any other planet is significant.

But what he desired most of all was simply to play ball. After the Saints and Graham’s agent Jimmy Sexton (you ever notice how often this guy is involved in these high-profile contracts?) came to terms he arrived here for camp seemingly content and definitely fit. He had the best conditioning time of any Saints player during Thursday’s testing.

“Jimmy is Jimmy,” Brees said when asked about how No. 80 looked when he reported to camp.

“I wasn’t worried about him staying in great shape,” Brees said. “I wasn’t worried about his conditioning or his work ethic being away from our facility.”

It’s not a reunion for Brees and Graham, more like the renewal of vows in a happy marriage.

“I’m happy all that mess is over and that I can focus on this team and this season,” Graham said.

“I feel fresh. I was on an extended vacation. Now I’m back hungry and ready to go.”

Seeing Graham back on the practice field had to feel like a shot of adrenaline for the entire Saints organization.

He’s a tight end, all right. He’s their tight end. And now that this family squabble is over, Graham and his team can get down to the business of trying to get to his first Super Bowl.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.

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