SEATTLE — Jimmy Graham won’t hide it. He hopes to ink a new long-term deal with the Saints.
But, an hour or so after New Orleans’ season-ending 23-15 defeat Saturday in an NFC divisional playoff game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, he said he still needed “to figure out what’s going to happen.”
“We’ll see,” said Graham, who led the Saints with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and sat atop the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions in the regular season, earning him a Pro Bowl nod and first-team All-Pro honors. “(New Orleans) is a great city, a great team. I love (quarterback) Drew Brees. I told them I would like to retire with him. Hopefully it will happen.”
Graham is reaching the end of the contract he accepted after the Saints selected him in the third round of the 2010 draft. He is almost certain to become the NFL’s most-sought free agent in March if the Saints don’t slap the franchise tag on him or sign him to another multi-year contract before then.
Graham, whose productivity resembles an elite wide receiver’s, is in line to become the best-paid tight end in NFL history, potentially worthy of a contract of at least $10 million per year. But debate is anticipated between his camp and the Saints about whether Graham should be paid like the league’s star wideouts, who earn more money than tight ends.
Graham opened the 2013 season on a rampage, hauling in 10 TDs and amassing 746 receiving yards in the Saints’ first eight games, of which they won six. He surpassed the 100-yard threshold in five of those games, including four straight from Weeks 2 to 5.
However, in a Week 6 loss to the New England Patriots, he didn’t catch a pass, and he hurt a foot.
As he played through the injury and opposing defenses seemingly built their schemes around limiting him, Graham’s productivity wasn’t as gaudy. In the final eight regular-season games, he caught six TDs, tallied 469 yards and reached 100 yards just once.
In the postseason, he had three catches for 44 yards in the Saints’ wild-card win at Philadelphia, but he managed only one grab for 8 yards — which came in the final seconds — in Saturday’s loss at top-seeded Seattle.
Graham’s lack of success against the Seahawks attracted derision from the hosts because the tight end nearly came to blows with Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin during pregame warm-ups.
“Jimmy is the guy who wants to get open in zones, find windows and make easy catches,” said Irvin, who had two tackles against the Saints. “He doesn’t want to be physical. So our biggest thing was to put our hands on him and make him be physical. That’s something that he didn’t want to do, and I think it was successful.”
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said Seattle wanted to stop Graham “because he was talking a lot of trash before the game … so that kind of added an extra incentive.”
Graham was targeted six times Saturday, but Seahawks defenders swarmed him all day. He lobbied for pass-interference calls on occasion, but to no avail.
The Seahawks’ focus on Graham freed up receiver Marques Colston, who had 11 catches on 16 targets for 144 yards and a touchdown. Reporters asked Graham whether it frustrated him that he didn’t get more balls thrown his way.
“Drew is going to throw it to the open guys and, if you’ve got people on you, he’s not going to throw you the ball,” he said. “When the ball comes my way, I’ve just got to make a play. Some of the calls, I thought, were a little different.”
Graham didn’t speak much about the altercation with Irvin.
“He tried to disrespect me,” he said, “and I’m not going to let anyone disrespect me.”