His NFL peers rank him as one of the league’s top 10 players.

But that’s not likely to make much difference as Jimmy Graham and the Saints enter last-ditch negotiations for a long-term contract before the July 15 deadline for franchised players to do so following Wednesday’s denial of Graham’s grievance that he be considered a tight end instead of a wide receiver.

NFL.com reporter Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Jimmy Sexton, Graham’s agent and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis are starting at “ground zero” in negotiations despite the Saints’ making several offers to Graham during last season when he earned All-Pro honors and established himself as one of the league’s elite players, thus earning him a spot on the NFL Network’s final countdown of the players-voted Top 100 Players of 2014. Saints quarterback Drew Brees also made the Top 10, the exact order of which will be revealed next week.

Loomis, responding via e-mail, said Thursday he had no comment on either the ruling by arbitrator Stephen Burbank or if negotiations with Graham had actually begun.

Sexton did not respond to phone and e-mail requests and Graham has not posted on any of his social media sites since before the ruling.

Most estimates are that the Saints and Graham will agree to a deal worth between $9-10 million, surpassing the six-year, $54 million deal New England tight end Rob Gronkowski signed in 2012 that included $18.1 million in guarantees. San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis received $23 million in guarantees in his deal.

The expected deal would make Graham the highest-paid tight end in the league. Over the past three seasons his number of receptions (270), receiving yards (3,507) and touchdowns (36) are the most by any tight end.

Graham is not likely to accept anything less than $20 million in guarantees and the longer the deal the more cap room the Saints can create under the $7 million it has already allotted for him.

The team currently has only $1.7 million in cap space.

Graham does have 10 days to appeal Burbank’s ruling, although any ruling would have to be accelerated beyond the normal period for resolution to beat the July 15 deadline. After that, Graham can only sign the tight end franchise offer or sit out the season.

Winning the appeal would mean Graham is entitled to $12 million in 2014 as a franchised wide receiver rather than the $7 million which goes to franchised tight ends.

A three-person panel – Georgetown University law professor James Oldham and former federal judges Richard Holwell and Fern Smith – hear all appeals akin to Graham’s.

If no deal is reached and Graham loses the appeal, a possible scenario is his sitting out training camp until the week before the season opener at Atlanta.

Waiting any longer appears remote. According to Joel Curry, a former agent who now writes for CBS Sports and The National Football Post, since the 2006 collective bargaining agreement implemented the 2006 mid-July deadline, no franchised player has missed any regular-season games.

In 2012, Brees, who had won his franchise case grievance which Burbank also arbitrated, signed his five-year $100 million contact two days before the July 15 deadline.

Staff writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.

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