Jimmy Graham will be franchise tagged if needed - Saints GM

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New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis says he will use the franchise tag system on tight end Jimmy Graham if he has to - but is hopeful that the two parities can thrash out a long-term contract instead.

Graham is a free agent in 2014 - but can be tied down under the franchise tag rule which means he'll have to stay with the Saints for another year and will take home the average wage of the top five earners in his position.

That has led to some speculation over what Graham's actual position is. He was drafted as a tight end but according to ESPN has lined up as a receiver for 67 percent of his snaps.

Although that might see like a minor difference, the gap in the average wage between a tight end and a wide receiver is huge - around $4.5 million.

Despite the speculation surrounding his future, Loomis says they'll use the franchise tag if needs be - but insists he has plenty of time (until March 3) to thrash out a new contract.

When asked about Graham's position on the field, Loomis said: "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as?" Loomis said. "That's what we see him as, a tight end. ... That's what makes him valuable."

He added: "We're going to franchise him if that's necessary. We're a long ways from that. I don't know if it's worth discussing right now,"

"We're in the early part of the process, and obviously we want to have Jimmy back and he wants to be back. And so we just have to go through this process."

Should Graham, who recorded 16 touchdown catches in the regular season, be franchise tagged the Saints may well have something of a problem on their hands if the 27-year-old tries to ale his case to arbitration and argue that he should count as a receiver.

For now that's purely hypothetical, and Loomis says that the blurring of the lines between tight-end and wide receiver is just part of the game.

"Look, the tight end has always been part of the passing game," Loomis said. "And he's part of the running game. So he's part of both. So are receivers, so are running backs."

He added of potential arbitration: "I don't know what the process for that is, and I'm not really worried about it," Loomis said. "I'm more worried about developing and coming to terms on a long-term contract."

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