Jimmy Graham gets franchise tag

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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints have placed their franchise tag on Jimmy Graham in order to protect the club's rights to its star tight end through next season.

The move means Graham, barring a holdout, likely will play for New Orleans next season for no less than the tight end franchise tag of $7.04 million.

It is also possible, under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, that Graham could be tagged as a receiver because of how often he lined up at that spot. That would carry a tag of $12.3 million.

The Saints used their non-exclusive franchise tag on Graham, leagues sources told ESPN, meaning he can sign with another team willing to surrender two first-round draft picks as compensation to New Orleans.

Under the non-exclusive tag. the Saints would have a right of first refusal, allowing them match any offer sheet and retain Graham for the specific amount by the signing team.

The move, confirmed by team spokesman Greg Bensel, was expected as the two sides attempt to work out a long-term deal.

Graham also weighed in on his Twitter account.

Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, likely will file a grievance through the players' association, asking that Graham be considered a receiver because he lined up out wide or in the slot on 67 percent of his snaps last season.

It's a significant distinction, and a favorable ruling would give one side serious leverage in long-term contract negotiations.

The Saints are adamant that Graham is a tight end. As general manager Mickey Loomis said recently, "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end."

Graham's camp would counter that the league's collective bargaining agreement specifically states the franchise tag designation is based on the position "at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year."

A neutral third-party arbitrator would be agreed upon by the NFLPA and the league's management council to hear arguments.

Graham, a third-round draft choice in 2010, has quickly emerged as one of the most prolific tight ends in the league. During his four-year Saints career, he has 301 receptions for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns -- including a league-high 16 touchdown catches last season.

At some point, Graham will almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million average salary of New England's 2012 contract extension with Rob Gronkowski. However, Graham's side may seek well more than $10 million per year, a total that would be more in line with what wide receivers who put up similar stats are paid.

Information from ESPN Senior NFL Insider Chris Mortensen, The Associated Press and ESPN.com Saints reporter Mike Triplett was used in this report.

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