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Saints TE Graham returns in form, and with humor

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Saints TE Graham returns in form, and with humor
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New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Drew Brees (9) Luke McCown (4) and Ryan Griffin (7) talk during training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) -- Aside from the New Orleans Saints' fleur-de-lis symbol, star tight end Jimmy Graham never associated playing pro football with flowers.

That is, until this week, when he reported to training camp at The Greenbrier resort and found his room adorned in wallpaper heavy on a pink floral print.

The room choice for Graham was an apparent practical joke. Teammate Pierre Thomas captured Graham's reaction on video that was posted to social media, proclaiming, ''They got you so good.''

Graham can afford to have a sense of humor about it. After missing all of the Saints' offseason because of a protected contract holdout, Graham is finally back with the team, thanks to a four-year, $40 million deal struck between him and the club last week.

After his first practice on Friday, Graham, smiling, described his room as ''a little bit more floral than I'm used to.''

But Graham was pleased to be back among teammates after a well-publicized contract negotiation.

''These last three days have been awesome,'' Graham said. ''I told the guys, 'You don't know how much you miss it until you are gone for that amount of time and knowing everyone else is together.'

''I missed the locker rooms. I missed the coaches. I missed the guys. Today was a special day for me.''

Graham's deal makes him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, topping the $9 million per season earned by New England's Rob Gronkowski.

Quarterback Drew Brees didn't seem to think Graham's holdout had been too detrimental to his form on the field.

''Jimmy is Jimmy,'' Brees said. ''Ran the best time in conditioning tests yesterday, so there's no doubt he's in shape and ready to roll.''

Much of that can be attributed to Graham's support system in his offseason home of Miami, including former Saints linebacker and unsigned free agent Jonathan Vilma, a fellow former Miami Hurricane.

''When I'm down there in Miami ... that's all we do is work,'' Graham said. ''We took on this year just like we did the lockout year (2011). For me, that's how I saw it. I knew that whenever my number was called or whenever something was figured out, that I could just show up and prove myself.''

That has not been a problem during his first four NFL seasons. Graham has become an integral part of the Saints' high-powered offense, with 301 career receptions for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Saints coach Sean Payton was impressed by the maturity with which Graham handled the situation.

''We have seen a guy come in here young and all of a sudden in a short period of time accomplish a lot of great things, and still has a lot of things I'm sure he wants to be able to accomplish,'' Payton said.

Graham, a former third-round pick who signed his rookie deal with little fanfare, called his first major contract negotiation ''a tough process.''

''It really is,'' Graham said. ''You don't really get into football to do things like that. You never see the business side of it. You never experience litigation and things like that. So for me it was an eye-opener. But in the same respect, I'm just happy that all that mess is over and that I can just focus on this team and this season.''

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