Vargas: No matter what Drew Brees says, Jimmy Graham is a tight end

Associated Press photo by EUGENE TANNER -- Saints tight end Jimmy Graham hugs quarterback Drew Brees after they teamed up for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Pro Bowl. Show caption
Associated Press photo by EUGENE TANNER -- Saints tight end Jimmy Graham hugs quarterback Drew Brees after they teamed up for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Pro Bowl.

After being accused — ridiculously — of possibly hurting Jimmy Graham’s chances to make more money, Saints quarterback Drew Brees appeared on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Friday, stood on the host’s desk and professed his hope that the team re-signs his star teammate.

“I want Jimmy back!” Brees shouted atop the desk of Patrick, whose show airs on DirecTV’s Audience Network. “I want Jimmy Graham back!”

It was the absurd end to an absurd attempt by some national media members to stir up a controversy around the Saints’ most compelling off-season storyline: retaining Graham.

Brees on Wednesday repeated to NBC Sports Radio’s Erik Kuselias something that Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis had told New Orleans media at the Senior Bowl on Jan. 21: As far the team is concerned, Graham is not a wide receiver. “He is a tight end,” the quarterback said.

That’s the Saints’ stance, even if Graham spends the majority of his time on the gridiron lined up as a wideout, not as an in-line tight end.

Some disagree with that, but there’s logic to the argument first made by Loomis and then rehashed by Brees. Marquee wide receivers like Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Dallas’ Dez Bryant never line up as in-line tight ends. And according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez — who’s paid as a tight end — ran many more routes as a receiver than Graham did this season.

There’s a number of reasons the tight end/wide receiver distinction is significant. Graham led the NFL in the regular season with 16 touchdown catches and the Saints with 1,215 receiving yards, impressive enough to make him New Orleans’ only first-team All-Pro player this year.

He is at the end of the contract he accepted as a rookie third-round draft pick in 2010, and he will hit free agency in March if the Saints don’t re-sign him to a new multi-year deal or slap the franchise tag on him. The Saints are pursuing that long-term contract with Graham while trying to get under a salary cap that they’re reportedly several millions of dollars over.

Unsurprisingly, the Saints said they will hand Graham the franchise tag if necessary, which would keep him in New Orleans through the 2014 season.

It’s expected, however, that Graham’s reps would argue that the All-Pro should be paid like a wide receiver and not a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag. At least one projection estimates the 2014 franchise tag for a tight end will be worth $6.7 million; it’ll be $11.6 million for a wide receiver.

All that was swirling in the background around when Brees offered his opinion on the matter, saying the Saints are “able to do a lot of creative things with Graham.”

“He’s so strong and physical, he plays with great fire and passion, he can play the line, he can split out,” Brees said. Nonetheless, Brees insisted Graham “is a tight end. He is a tight end.”

Afterward, observers contended that Brees — awarded a $100 million contract in 2012 — was maybe hampering Graham’s earning potential, whether or not it was intentional.

And that’s simply not the case.

The inconvenient truths for Graham presented by the likes of Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and Tony Gonzalez exist, even if Brees has never said what he said.

They wouldn’t have been erased if Brees came out and said Graham deserved franchise wideout money. They aren’t worse because he called Graham what he went to the Pro Bowl as and was drafted as: a tight end.

Of course, Brees told Patrick as much.

“It really doesn’t matter what I say,” said Brees, who added that he’s since seen Graham and that things are all right. “That has no bearing on the rules as to how he’s designated in the franchise tag or whatever it might be. I will stand up on your table right now and say I want to have Jimmy Graham back. Will that make things better?”

Patrick cleared some space. Brees raised his arms as he screamed that he wanted Graham back on the Saints.