Timeline: How the Jimmy Graham deal got done

Jan. 21

At Senior Bowl practice in Moblie, Alabama, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis confirms the Saints are willing to put the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham if necessary and adds the debate about whether he should be designated as a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes is a short one. According to Loomis, he obviously is a tight end. “Isn’t that what we drafted him as? Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as: a tight end.” The franchise tag for a tight end pays $7.053 million, while the tag for a wide receiver pays $12.312 million.

Feb. 14

After a Pro Bowl practice, Graham responds to Loomis’ comment in an NFL.com story. “I’m not keen on the franchise tag,” he says. “That would be really unfortunate, but that is really all I have to say about that one.”

Feb. 28

As expected, the Saints place a non-exclusive franchise tag on Graham as a tight end after both sides could not come close to a long-term contract agreement. The tag allows negotiations for a new contract to continue until July 15. If no deal is reached, Graham will be locked into a one-year deal based on the average salaries of the five highest paid players at his position. Other teams are free to pursue Graham but the Saints have the right to match any offer. If they don’t, they will receive two first-round draft picks as compensation for losing him. Graham’s response on twitter: “Confirming it’s officially Franchisefriday… TAG… I guess I’m it …”

May 7

The NFL Players Association files a grievance on Graham’s behalf asking that he be considered a wide receiver rather than a tight end. Under the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, a neutral party arbitrator will make that decision after hearing both sides of the argument. The phrase in the collective bargaining agreement that is viewed as giving Graham a chance to win is that a player’s salary should be based on the position “at which he participated in the most plays during the prior league year.” ESPN research shows Graham lined up at tight end 33 percent of the time, in the slot 45 percent of the time and out wide 22 percent of the time.

July 2

After a hearing in June in Metairie in which Saints coach Sean Payton testified on the team’s behalf, arbitrator Stephen Burbank rules Graham a tight end, meaning he will get the $7.053 million tag rather than $12.312 million. One of Saints’ arguments against Graham is that he lists himself as a tight end on Twitter.

Tuesday

With a 3 p.m. deadline looming, Graham tweets out at 7:52 a.m. that a deal has been struck. The Saints follow at 8:29 a.m. with their own tweet. Neither side talks money or years, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter cites a source who says Graham got paid a groundbreaking $40 million over four years, with $21 million in guaranteed money.

— Guerry Smith