Tom Benson confident about Super Bowl bid, Jimmy Graham deal

ORLANDO, Fla. — Speaking about two of his organization’s most pressing issues Tuesday at the league owners’ meeting, Saints owner Tom Benson used the same word to describe his feelings about both: Confident.

Benson said he was confident his front office would be able to reach a long-term deal with All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham sooner or later. And Benson said he was confident New Orleans had a great chance to successfully bid for the 2018 Super Bowl at an NFL gathering in May in Atlanta.

On the first issue, Benson attributed his confidence to Graham, whom he called “a hell of a good player (but) also a good person.”

On the other, Benson partially credited his confidence to spectators’ easygoing attitude when the lights went out in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013. That prevented the blackout from becoming more serious than a strange footnote to the game, something that could have derailed the city’s chances at hosting another Super Bowl in fewer than four years, he said.

Of that pair of matters, the one of more immediate concern to Saints fans centers on Graham, who led the Saints with 1,215 receiving yards and the NFL with 16 touchdown catches.

Graham spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, but the team handed him a one-year franchise tag classifying him as a tight end, the position at which he was drafted and has been to two Pro Bowls.

A franchise tag for a wide receiver is worth $5 million more, and it’s believed he could file a grievance for the players association to be classified as a wideout, given the massive boost in pay that could result in, depending on the decision of a third party.

Graham might not even play under the tag if he and the Saints can agree on a long-term deal to replace the one he accepted from New Orleans as a rookie in 2010. That’s precisely what Benson anticipates will happen, he said.

“He’s a hell of a good player, and he’s also a good person,” Benson said. “I feel confident we’ll work out something. We just have a little bit more time to do it, that’s all.”

Benson said he was unsure if a deal would be completed before the April 22 deadline for Graham to file his grievance. The website Pro Football Talk reported late Monday that was a likely scenario.

Asked if the Graham saga could play out similarly to the one with Saints quarterback Drew Brees in 2012, Benson said, “Sure.”

Brees was given a franchise tag in March 2012 and then signed an unprecedented $100 million deal about four months later. While Graham’s won’t be that rich, it’s still expected to surpass the contract given in 2012 to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, a six-year deal worth $9 million per season that was the most lucrative ever for an NFL player at that position.

“It just doesn’t feel there’s much pressure to get this thing done that quick,” Benson said. “It’s on the back burner a little bit. We have so much going, (but) it’ll get done.”

If it drags out too long, Benson joked that he’d either “kick (Graham) a little bit” to speed up talks or unveil his secret weapon: his wife, Gayle.

“He loves my wife,” Benson said. “So I’m going to put her on him.”

As for the city’s 2018 Super Bowl bid, some might figure the other two finalists — Indianapolis and Minneapolis — have a leg up on New Orleans because they didn’t recently host an NFL title game where there was a power outage that caused a 35-minute delay in play.

The Baltimore Ravens were up 28-6 at the time of the outage. They ultimately won, but it was by a much thinner margin: 34-31.

New Orleans nonetheless emerged as a finalist for the 2018 Super Bowl; and in Benson’s opinion, that’s a strong indication the league has moved past the outage.

While it certainly helped that the Ravens didn’t lose, Benson said it was crucial that fans at the Superdome didn’t act out during the confusion surrounding the outage.

“There wasn’t any hollering and screaming; everybody just took it casually and ... went on (with) it,” Benson said. “I think the fans took it ... as another excitement in the game. All the people around me, it just felt taped — like, ‘What, you guys putting on another show?’”

Benson, therefore, fancies New Orleans’ odds at landing the bid.

“I plan on being there and shaking a few hands just to make sure,” Benson said. “(But) I think everybody likes New Orleans. ... We put on a good show for everybody. ... I feel very confident about it.”

Quotable

— “You’ve got to give Mickey Loomis credit. He really ... knows the numbers. He knows how to add 2 and 2 is 4. Some people don’t know that.” — Benson, on how Saints General Manager Loomis was able to create the cap space to land marquee free-agent safety Jairus Byrd.

— “This is what it’s going to be about: getting to know each other better, working with each other harder. We feel like this may be another good step for us.” — Benson, on the Saints’ decision to host part of future training camps at The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia.