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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham prepares to stop Atlanta Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud during the second half of an NFL football game on Nov. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. (Associated Press)

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham prepares to stop Atlanta Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud during the second half of an NFL football game on Nov. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. (Associated Press)

Time for Saints to mend fences

Last Modified: Thursday, July 03, 2014 11:49 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Now is the time for the Saints to do the right thing.

They have won their case against Jimmy Graham.

The All-Pro pass catcher has been ruled a tight end and not a wide receiver by arbitrator Stephen Burbank.

Burbank’s decision came a day ahead of schedule as first word leaked out, then was made official.

It means the Saints will save some $5 million on Graham this year. He wanted to be ruled a wide receiver and thus get $12.3 million when the Saints hit him with the franchise tag in the offseason.

Instead Graham will have to slug through this year on just $7 million and some chump change.

Must be tough.

That is, of course, if he decides to play. He could still sit out the season or he could even appeal the ruling through the NFL Players’ Association.

Graham may want to go down fighting.

It has been a long, and at times ugly, battle since the Saints first slapped the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees’ top target over the last four years.

Sides have been taken and words have been said.

Head coach Sean Payton even had to testify in the hearing. He was forced in the middle and had to choose between the man who writes his checks and another for whom he draws up plays and sits with in meetings.

That is being caught between a rock and hard place.

Payton probably had to side with management considering he is really one of them. He might have tried to do it with a wink to his words headed toward Graham, but it is not a position any head coach would want to be put in.

They want the players to think they have their backs.

For all we know Graham might feel more like he got a knife in his back from his skipper.

Then there is Brees, who is on the record as saying he both wants Graham, but is ready to move forward without him.

Seems the faces of this franchise are pretty good at talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Truth is they had no choice to say those things. It is true and they know all too well the business of football.

When Payton was suspended over the bountygate fiasco the game went on. Last year Brees had his own contract dispute with the Saints that included him sitting out several offseason workouts.

The Saints threatened to franchise tag Brees at the time.

It is part of the game that fans don’t like. After all, it is called professional football for a reason.

However, now is not the time for the front office to gloat or do a victory dance. It is time for the Saints’ brass to instead do the right thing.

It is time for them to lock Graham up with a long-term deal that pays him not what the rest of football says he is worth, but what he is worth to the team.

It is time for owner Tom Benson to fork over the right amount of money to soothe all parties.

Most believe a deal can be reached by July 15 in the neighborhood of $10 million a year for three or four years. That is a pretty good neighborhood to be in for both Graham and the Saints.

He would be paid well for a tight end and with some of the league’s best receivers.

Even more importantly it would tell Graham that even though he lost his case he was still an important part of the present and future.

If they don’t, this could be the last year Graham suits up for the club, meaning the Saints’ victory in the case would be very short lived.

That is why it’s important for Benson to extend an olive branch and welcome Graham back with open arms and checkbook.

It’s the best thing for all.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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