Four downs: Implications of Jimmy Graham’s new deal

Tuesday morning’s agreement on a multi-year contract between the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham carries lots of implications. Here’s four that are immediately good for New Orleans and bad for opponents trying to contain someone who since 2011 leads all NFL players in touchdown receptions (36) and tops all tight ends in catches (270) and receiving yards (3,507).

1. Never again question Saints owner Tom Benson’s commitment to winning New Orleans a second Super Bowl as quickly as possible. Since 2010, his team has given the richest contracts in NFL history at the time of signing at the position of guard (Jahri Evans, up to $56.7 million over seven years), quarterback (Drew Brees, up to $100 million over five years), safety (Jairus Byrd, up to $54 million over six years) and now reportedly tight end.

Reports are that Graham’s contract is for $40 million over four years ($10 million a year, with $21 million guaranteed), more lucrative than the six-season, $9 million a year deal ($13 million total of which was guaranteed) that made New England’s Rob Gronkowski the NFL’s best-paid tight end in 2012.

That’s quite a pay bump for Graham, who is 27 and had made a total of $3.3 million since 2010.

2. To prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent after his contract expired at the end of last season, the Saints handed Graham a one-season franchise tag for 2014. But he wasn’t under contract until he either signed a new long-term deal or the tag. So, under no obligation to show up to the team’s offseason workouts or minicamp, he sat them out.

What do you think would’ve happened at training camp if he didn’t have a deal? This ensures Graham gets a crack at a full slate of preseason practices and exhibitions to reacquire that live game speed, in case it tapered off in his time away from the team.

3. This almost goes without saying, yet here goes: imagine a Graham at full speed from Week 1 onward lining up with the newest exciting talent being introduced to the Saints’ aerial attack: rookie receiver and first-round pick Brandin Cooks.

Well-documented is the potential for the speedy, durable Cooks to produce all-purpose yardage in a manner similar to Darren Sproles, who led the Saints in the category each year from 2011 to 2013. Potentially complementing that through 2017 will be Graham’s 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame, so difficult to defend that last year he alone accounted for half of the 22 touchdowns Drew Brees threw from inside the opponents’ 20.

4. Permit some light-heartedness: Not only does Graham’s new contract reflect on Benson’s continued willingness to invest in winning (the Saints have made the playoffs three of the four seasons they’ve played since triumphing in Super Bowl XLIV).

It also means Graham, who is a pilot and likes to fly in his spare time, can probably afford to considerably upgrade his toys for his favorite hobby.