Graham refuses to comment as two-day grievance hearing with Saints ends

Associated Press file photo by BOB LEVERONE -- Saints tight ends Jimmy Graham, left, and Benjamin Watson celebrate Graham's touchdown catch against Carolina last season. Graham declined to comment Wednesday when his franchise-tag-grievance hearing was supposed to conclude. Show caption
Associated Press file photo by BOB LEVERONE -- Saints tight ends Jimmy Graham, left, and Benjamin Watson celebrate Graham's touchdown catch against Carolina last season. Graham declined to comment Wednesday when his franchise-tag-grievance hearing was supposed to conclude.

When approached at a New Orleans-area hotel for comment about his franchise tag-related dispute and grievance hearing with the Saints on Wednesday, tight end Jimmy Graham replied, "I can't say anything."

The Advocate confirmed that the two-day grievance hearing ended on Wednesday.

The man presiding over Graham's grievance hearing, NFL System Arbitrator Stephen Burbank, also declined comment. Burbank was overheard making airline arrangements for Thursday.

Saints coach Sean Payton, who was present at the hotel, refused to comment on the way out. Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, also declined to comment.

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.

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.

If Graham wins his hearing, 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.

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

Graham led the Saints with 1,215 receiving yards and the NFL with 16 touchdown grabs last year. Eleven of Saints quarterback Drew Brees' 22 touchdown passes from inside the opponent's 20-yard line went to Graham.