Graham’s deal bypasses the contract signed in 2008 by former Indianapolis Colt Dallas Clark, who earned $27.55 million in the first three years of that deal.
The two sides came down to the wire before the Tuesday 4 p.m. EST deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term contracts. But they reached a deal and that is a good sign that there won’t be any lingering animosity from the negotiations, which included a groundbreaking arbitration hearing in which Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis testified against Graham’s wide-receiver argument.
Graham was angling for an even bigger payday when he filed the grievance, asking to be declared a receiver instead of a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. But his request was ultimately rejected by arbitrator Stephen Burbank earlier this month.
In the end, though, the deal appears to be a win-win for a team and player that have been a perfect fit for each other since the Saints drafted the former University of Miami basketball player in the third round in 2010.
Over the past three years, the former college basketball player has led all NFL players with 36 touchdown catches, while averaging 90 catches, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per season. He was a first-team All-Pro last season and a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2013.