PHOENIX – New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said he has no intention of changing the way he uses Jimmy Graham just to get around a possible showdown over whether the player is considered a tight end or a wide receiver in free agency.
"We're going to do whatever we have to do to win games, whether that's line him up wide, in the slot, three yards off the tackle, five yards off the tackle or right next to the tackle, whatever," Payton said in reference to the tight end.
Graham is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season. While the Saints would like to get a long-term deal done with him before the end of the season, New Orleans faces some salary-cap issues.
That means that the team might be forced to put a franchise tag on Graham next offseason to prevent it from losing him to another team. The rub is that the franchise tag for a tight end is far less expensive than it is for a wide receiver. This year, the difference is approximately $4.5 million on the cap ($6 million for a tight end and $10.5 million for a wide receiver).
This offseason, how a player is defined between tight end and wide receiver became an issue when the Tennessee Titans contemplated putting a franchise tag on Jared Cook. Titans general manager Ruston Webster even said publicly that Cook would be with the Titans in 2013 regardless of whether he received a contract extension. Cook played more than half his plays at either the slot or wideout spot in 2012.
As a result, his agents (Christina Phillips and Drew Pittman) were set to formally argue that Cook was really a wide receiver for the purposes of the franchise tag. The Titans eventually decided not to put the franchise tag on Cook, allowing him to become a free agent. He signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the St. Louis Rams.
Graham's next deal is expected to far exceed Cook's contract, particularly if he is not subjected to the franchise number for a tight end. There are some people who believe that Graham should be paid as a wide receiver in excess of $10 million per year.
Payton said he didn't know about the situation with Cook. Regardless, he said it would not have an impact on what he does with Graham.
"I wasn't aware of that, but it's not going to make a difference in how we use Jimmy," Payton said. "You see how we play. We're going to put people in different spots all the time to get them open. Whatever we have to do is not going to be dictated by the interpretation of some rule. We're just going to try to win."
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