Ex-NFL agents see Saints, Jimmy Graham coming to terms by July 15

It’s been more than a week since Jimmy Graham lost his grievance hearing as the result of a July 2 decision, but there’s been no indication that he’s exercised his right to an appeal yet (he was given 10 days to do so). Separately, the deadline for Graham to sign a long-term contract extension with the Saints in time for 2014 is right around the corner, and no deal’s been announced.

Both the Saints and Graham’s representatives declined to speak about either matter on the record Wednesday. But don’t worry, say two former NFL agents who have been closely watching this offseason saga — odds still seem strong that Graham will end up under contract for years to come, even if it’s right at the 3 p.m. deadline July 15.

To prevent Graham from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the four-year contract he was given as a rookie expired in March, the Saints handed him a one-season franchise tag worth more than $7 million and designated him a tight end.

But because he lined up mostly as a slot receiver in 2013, when he led the Saints with 1,215 receiving yards and the NFL with 16 touchdown catches, Graham filed a grievance through the players union contending he should get a wide receiver tag worth some $5 million more.

NFL system arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled Graham was a tight end. Burbank arrived at the decision in part after hearing testimony from Saints coach Sean Payton that Graham was treated by opponents and New Orleans like a tight end.

Graham has not signed the tag, and some speculated Payton’s role in the grievance hearing might impede contract negotiations. Yet ex-agents Joel Corry and Joe Casale don’t subscribe to that.

Casale lauded the capabilities of Graham’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, and said Sexton would get Graham to understand that NFL head coaches are management. That differs from Major League Baseball, where coaches are a part of the players association, said Casale, who represented NFLers for 14 years.

“There’s no way (Payton) wasn’t going to testify,” Casale said. “That’s his job.”

Sexton has also certainly educated Graham about why a long-term deal is preferable to a tag, which is all Graham could sign for 2014 after the deadline.

One doesn’t have to look far to find a player who had a serious career setback while under a tag — Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton tore an anterior cruciate ligament three games into 2013.

“That’s a risk you don’t want to take,” said Corry, a National Football Post contributor.

Nobody expects Graham to accept a contract less lucrative than the six-year, $54 million deal that in 2012 made New England’s Rob Gronkowski the NFL’s best-paid tight end ever. Corry and Casale opine Graham deserves at least $10 million — more money than any tight end’s gotten but less than what typical franchise wideouts make, which would acknowledge the Burbank ruling and what set the stage for it.