Jimmy Graham must deliver in final year of rookie contract

By Gil Alcaraz IV
Jimmy Graham
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 NFL season was a bumpy one for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who dropped 15 passes while battling a nagging wrist injury. Considered by many to be one of the elite tight ends in the league, Graham still faces an uphill battle in 2013 if he wants to land a big-money contract next offseason.

Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, Graham is slated to make $1.323 million this upcoming season. Those modest numbers, however, do no justice to the type of dynamic player that the Miami (FL) alumnus has proven himself to be since the Saints drafted him in the third round three years ago.

Despite putting up impressive numbers during his rookie campaign (31 receptions, 356 yards, five touchdowns), Graham really burst onto the scene in 2011 with an All-Pro performance. Starting 11 of 16 games, the uber-athletic tight end hauled in 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Displaying outstanding body control and a terrific catch radius, the sky appeared to be the limit for Graham heading into 2012.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned wrist injury hindered his ability to make the catches that many thought were routine for him after his first two NFL campaigns. Even though he caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns, his 15 drops were hard to ignore. Now, heading into a contract year, Graham must prove that he can get back to 100 percent following surgery and put his days of double-digit drops behind him.

The Saints have yet to hold contract talks with Graham this offseason, and likely won’t initiate anything until later on in the year. Especially after his struggles in 2012, New Orleans will want to make sure that this wrist injury isn’t going to linger into 2013 and beyond.

The only setback to this tactic is that, as the end of the 2013 season nears, Graham will start to expect a contract offer more in the range of his 2014 market value. Had the Saints made a move earlier to extend the dynamic tight end, they easily could have enticed him into a long-term contract that included more reasonable figures. Then again, if the drops continue in 2013, the Saints might have enough leverage to broker a deal that leans in their favor.

Based off of talent, production and how he’s used, Graham deserves to be paid like a wide receiver. Whether or not that happens will depend on how the 2013 season plays out. Until then, it’s a waiting game.

Gil Alcaraz IV is a Network Manager/NFL featured columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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