No surprise as we knew this was coming, though I have to admit I'm slightly surprised Mickey Loomis didn't wait till the day of the deadline. Confirmation came from the star "tight end" himself:
Confirming it's officially Franchisefriday… TAG … I guess I'm it…
— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) February 28, 2014
So there you have it. Now begins the process of uncovering whether Graham will be franchised as a tight end or a receiver. The difference between the two is about $5.3 million in worth as confirmed here:
Official franchise tag numbers for '14 (Offense): QB $16.912M; RB $9.54M; WR $12.312M; TE $7.035M; OL $11.654M.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 28, 2014
The process of that decision and how long it will take to resolve is still unclear. What we know is the tag of a tight end would seriously undervalue what Graham does on the field while giving the Saints the upper hand in negotiations for a long term deal, and the tag of a receiver would significantly affect the Saints' cap flexibility and perhaps force the Saints to give Graham what he wants. Dennis Pitta just got a 5 year deal worth about $7 million a year, so clearly Graham deserves much more than a player like Pitta. That said, "deserves" and "will get" can be completely different things.
Per ESPN.com,"a neutral third-party arbitrator would be agreed upon by the NFLPA and the NFL Management Council to hear the arguments." A decision on this WR vs. TE debate would come from this.
Graham is tagged as a "non-exclusive" franchise player, which means he can seek contract offers from other teams. If a team signed Graham to an offer sheet, the Saints would have the right to match it. If they declined to match, they would receive two 1st round picks as compensation. Those would be original picks from the team in consecutive years (so a 1st round pick they acquired in a trade would not be eligible as compensation). It's highly unlikely, like 1%, that a team would give up two 1st round picks and sign Graham to a contract that would essentially count as 10% of their salary cap. So you don't need to worry about that scenario playing out. Even if it did, I can think of a lot worse than acquiring two 1st rounders. What might have more legs is a team agreeing in principle to a deal with Graham, then offering the Saints less than two first round picks in a trade (maybe a 1st and a 3rd or something). Then the Saints could decide to make that trade, or not.
This is just the beginning of what should be a contract situation with lots of drama.