Brees knows what Graham is going through

METAIRIE, La. – For the second time in three years, Drew Brees and his favorite target will be split apart as the New Orleans Saints kick off their summer OTA sessions next week.

Only this time, it’s Jimmy Graham who is holding out while unsigned under the franchise tag. In 2012, it was Brees who missed all of the Saints’ summer practice sessions and workouts.

Brees, who ultimately signed a new long-term contract in July of that year, said it can certainly be a frustrating process. But he said he and Graham’s teammates understand that it’s the nature of the business – and he’s made sure that Graham knows that, too.

“Yeah, I mean, I didn’t like having to miss. As you’re going through it, you’re like, ‘Gosh, it should be much easier than this, right?'” Brees said Wednesday night while participating in teammate Ben Grubbs’ charity softball game (Graham, not surprisingly, was not in attendance).

“But listen, that’s part of the process,” Brees continued. “It’s a leverage game and it’s back and forth. And the team has a job to do and the player has a job to do in regards to their contract. And so you just understand that that’s the way it is, and you live with it. And when he’s here, I know he’ll be ready to play. I know he’ll be staying in good shape and all those things. I’m not worried about Jimmy Graham. When he comes back, he’ll be ready.”

Graham’s situation is even further complicated by the fact that he was officially franchised as a tight end – and he filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association asking to be declared a wide receiver instead, based on how he’s used in the Saints’ offense.

That grievance hearing is scheduled for June 17-18. And based on the decision from a neutral third-party arbitrator, the difference in Graham’s mandatory one-year salary under the franchise tag would be $7.035 million or $12.3 million.

Or the Saints and Graham’s camp could just split the difference on their own at any point in the meantime. Most likely, Graham will eventually sign a new long-term contract worth at least $10 million per year, making him the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.

The deadline for franchised players to sign a long-term contract extension is July 15. After that, they are only allowed to sign a one-year deal.

“We’ve been in contact,” Brees said. “Just checking on him, making sure he’s doing alright and he’s not getting frustrated, you know, disappointed or taking things personal. It’s easy to do that, especially as a young player. You look at your contributions to the team, and [think], ‘Here I am, drafted in the third round, been pretty much playing for minimum here over the last four years. And now this is my opportunity to get compensated based on my production.’

“It’s what every young player hopes that they have the opportunity to go through or get is that second contract. And I know he wants to be a Saint for the rest of his career. I know I want him to be a Saint for the rest of my career. Hopefully we can go at it for another five, six, seven years together and then go out champions together. But I’m confident it will all get worked out when it’s supposed to.”