Graham grievance hearing begins, Brees says Saints can be champions

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) takes down Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) as Chancellor attempted to make an interception in a NFL NFC divisional football playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at Century Link Field in Seattle, Wash. Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) takes down Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) as Chancellor attempted to make an interception in a NFL NFC divisional football playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at Century Link Field in Seattle, Wash. Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

“We still have a lot of work to do. But ... why not the New Orleans Saints? Tell me why we can’t win the championship.” DREW BREES, Saints quarterback

The two-day franchise-tag-related grievance hearing for Jimmy Graham scheduled to begin Tuesday yielded lots of tidbits from national media. Among them was a report on Twitter from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the hearing was being held in Metairie.

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement specifies that hearings like that of Graham should be held in the home city of the player’s team, barring an agreement by involved parties to move it. It also says players and their representatives have the right to attend such hearings.

The precise location of the hearing hasn’t been made clear.

To prevent Graham from becoming an unrestricted free agent when his contract expired in March, the Saints handed him a one-year franchise tag that is worth more than $7 million and classifies him as a tight end. But because Graham lined up as a receiver on more than two of every three plays in 2013, he filed a grievance through the league players union arguing that he should get a wideout franchise tag worth more than $12 million.

It’s worth noting that countless media stories pegged the value of the tight end tag as $7.035 million and the wideout one as $12.312 million. But national reports Tuesday said an internal NFL memo dated March 3 set the actual values at $7.053 million and $12.132 million.

The franchise tag dispute between Graham and the Saints would end the moment he signs a new long-term deal to replace his lapsed contract. But Rapoport also reported that it’s expected annual compensation for a new deal for Graham would be based on the tight end tag value if he loses his hearing.

If Graham wins, Rapoport reported, he’d sign his tag. The entire $12 million amount would count against the Saints’ 2014 salary cap. New Orleans was about $1.72 million under the salary limit Tuesday counting Graham’s tight-end tag, meaning the team would have to create cap space by restructuring deals on the books, terminating players under contract or trading them.

However, either side could appeal any decision that might come as a result of the hearing to a three-person panel.

Brees has high hopes

Saints quarterback Drew Brees told USA Today on Tuesday the chance to win a second Super Bowl in New Orleans is the main reason he’s still playing 14 years after joining the NFL, and there’s no reason why he can’t get championship ring No. 2 at the end of the 2014 campaign.

As evidence to support his viewpoint, Brees cited coach Sean Payton and his staff; the team’s devoted fan base; and a track record that’s seen New Orleans make two conference championship games, clinch three division titles, qualify for the playoffs five times and capture a Super Bowl trophy since his arrival in 2006.

“We have as good a chance as anybody,” Brees said, according to USA Today. “We still have a lot of work to do. But ... why not the New Orleans Saints? Tell me why we can’t win the championship.”

Brees echoed remarks he’s made in other appearances: that it’d be special to win another championship with a group that’s almost completely different from the one that was victorious in Super Bowl XLIV; that he hopes to continue his career after his current contract with the Saints expires in 2016; and that he wants to play beyond his 40th birthday.

About the possibility of winning another title with an essentially new group of guys, Brees told USA Today: “It’s one thing to have one (ring). It’s a completely different thing to have two, especially when they would be five or more years apart.”

About playing into his 40s, Brees said to USA Today: “As long as I’m healthy and playing at a high level and having fun, then I’m going to play as long as I can, and there will be plenty of time for (other) stuff.”

Paintballing

When the Saints convened for work Tuesday, the NFL’s mandate against live tackling was still in place. But they introduced more contact than might be typical this time of year by renewing a tradition: leaving their practice facility in Metairie and playing some paintball.

The Saints divided themselves into a gray squad and a black squad after arriving at Paintball Command across Lake Pontchartrain and near Mandeville on Tuesday, the third-to-last day of organized team activities (OTAs). A video posted by rookie tight end Je’Ronn Hamm on Instagram showed team members sitting around boxes of equipment and receiving instructions on how to properly use it before presumably taking aim at each other on the renowned outdoor paintball field.

“Annual Saints Competition!!!” tweeted Hamm, who snapped a photo of Paintball Command’s sign. “We bout to go after the Grey team!!! #blacksquad.”

Meanwhile, Saints punter Thomas Morstead published a self-portrait on his Twitter account of team members preparing to gear up.

Under coach Sean Payton, the Saints often shake up their offseason and preseason routines by taking days away from the practice field to bond over recreational activities.

The Saints had completed seven days of voluntary OTAs and a mandatory minicamp from June 10-12. They have OTA sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. They report to training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia on July 24.