NFL: Saints place franchise tag on TE Jimmy Graham


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, will almost certainly 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 split wide from the line. That would carry a tag of $12.3 million.

Once Graham’s tag has been determined, the two sides could continue to argue that matter before an arbitrator. That appears to be the likely process as both side aim to determine precisely how much negotiating leverage they have before hammering out a long-term deal.

Similarly, the Saints use their franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees in March 2012, then needed a little more than four months to work out the five-year, $100 million deal Brees signed shortly before training camp.

Like Brees, Graham is represented by Creative Artists Agency. They do not have the same agent. Graham is represented by Jimmy Sexton and Brees by Tom Condon.

The move, confirmed by team spokesman Greg Bensel, was expected as part of what is widely anticipated to be a protracted negotiation between the team and one of the best young tight ends in the NFL

Graham has said publicly during the Pro Bowl in February that it would be “unfortunate,” if the team used the franchise tag on him, but on Friday he reacted to the move with subtle humor.

Afterward, Graham wrote on his Twitter account, “Confirming it’s officially Franchisefriday… TAG … I guess I’m it.”

Graham, a former college basketball player who played one year of football at Miami, was drafted by the Saints in 2010. Last season, he led the Saints in catches with 86, yards with 1,215 and touchdowns with 16.

He has led the Saints in catches in each of the past three seasons, while leading the club in yards receiving and touchdowns in two of the last three seasons.

During the past three regular seasons combined, he has 270 catches for 3,507 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Panthers tag Hardy, sign Gano

The Panthers used the franchise tag on Greg Hardy on Friday, preventing the outspoken defensive end from hitting the free agent market.

Hardy will make $12.45 million next season.

The team also re-signed kicker Graham Gano to a four-year contract. Financial terms of that deal were not released.

Hardy, known by teammates as “The Kraken,” tied a franchise single-season record with 15 sacks in 2013 and was selected second-team All-Pro by The Associated Press. SportsIllustrated.com ranked Hardy as this offseason’s top NFL free agent.

Hardy led the Panthers with 38 quarterback pressures and posted a career-high 67 tackles last season.

“We are very pleased that Greg will be back with the Panthers next season,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said in a release. “He was a big reason we were able to lead the league in sacks last year and keeps our defensive line intact.”

The Panthers have until July 15 to sign Hardy to a long-term contract extension. After that date they can’t discuss a contract extension until after the season is over.

“The franchise mechanism gives us time to secure the services of a very good player while we continue to look at the future of Greg with the Carolina Panthers,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said in a release. “We have had great dialogue with both Greg and his agent. It was important to keep our defensive front together.”

Hardy and Charles Johnson are the only set of teammates to record 10 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons. They have combined for 49.5 sacks during that span, tied for most in the NFL.

A former sixth-round draft pick out of Mississippi, Hardy made the league veteran minimum salary last year.

Hardy said in January he would have no problem if the Panthers used the franchise tag on him after being selected to his first Pro Bowl.

“I would love a franchise (tag), man,” Hardy said prior to the playoffs. “Add another year on my career. Get to play football a little bit longer without a contract. Another year to be in Carolina just to get them a chance to get their fiscal responsibilities in order so we can be here forever, like Steve Smith and a lot of other guys.”

Hardy becomes the fifth player in Panthers history to receive the franchise tag, joining punter Todd Sauerbrun (2003), tackle Jordan Gross (2008), defensive end Julius Peppers (2009) and center Ryan Kalil (2011).

Jets franchise Folk

Nick Folk kicked his way to a big pay raise with the New York Jets.

The Jets placed the franchise tag on the reliable kicker Friday after he had perhaps the best season of his seven-year NFL career.

Folk made $780,000 last season, but the franchise tag estimate for kickers is about $3.4 million for this season. Folk was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and by using the tag, the Jets could potentially set things up for a multiyear deal — which it is believed Folk is seeking.

Teams have until Monday to designate a player for the franchise tag, which allows a team to retain the rights to a scheduled unrestricted free agent. It’s the first time since 2011 that the Jets used the tag, when linebacker David Harris was franchised.

In his fourth season with the Jets, Folk made 33 of 36 field-goal attempts, including three winning kicks. He broke the franchise records for most consecutive field goals from the start of a season (23) and most consecutive home field goals (20). Folk also had a career-high 30 touchbacks on his kickoffs.

After spending his first three seasons with Dallas, Folk has established himself as a clutch kicker for the Jets, with coach Rex Ryan playfully referring to him as “Folk Hero.”

Folk has repeatedly won training camp kicking competitions with the Jets, beating out Nick Novak, Josh Brown, Billy Cundiff and Dan Carpenter, among others, the last few summers.