New Orleans Saints  

 

Jimmy Graham next in line after Rob Gronkowski's extension

METAIRIE, La. -- Jimmy Graham doesn't need motivation. His well-told life story proves that.

Sent to a group home by his own struggling mother, Graham overcame a fragmented, troubled upbringing to become a college basketball player at the University of Miami and eventually an NFL star for the New Orleans Saints. Only with intense personal will does one emerge from such circumstances.

And still, whether he wants it or not, whether it's necessary or not, motivation just arrived for the Pro Bowler.

And it comes in the form of, as Randy Moss famously said, straight cash, homey.

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New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski just signed a six-year, $54-million extension that, if he stays healthy, will make him among the game's most well-paid tight ends. And all eyes turn to Graham.

Drafted in the same year, the NFL's two most electric weapons at their position will forever be linked. They are also linked on the stat sheet, as Gronkowski's 90-catch, 1,327-yard season with 17 touchdowns narrowly eclipsed what would have been a record-setting year for Graham. As it was, the Saints' 6-foot-7 monster had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 scores.

One can't help but wonder if Graham is next to cash in. He'd never say it. Graham isn't that kind of guy. In another market, in a different situation, maybe Graham would be appearing on dating shows like Gronkowski is or filling up the gossip pages. But don't think Graham's not driven to match his work.

"He's definitely deserved everything he's got, the Pro Bowl and all his other accolades," Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "Given he had a crazy situation growing up and took his life to the top, he's a star. Hat's off to the guy, because he worked extremely hard to get where he is today."

Gronkowski and Graham are not similar players, except they play the same position. Gronkowski is a mauling blocker, along with his skills as a receiver. Graham is a tight end in name only, often thriving in a flexed-out alignment. But both can abuse corners and safeties alike, creating matchup issues. Both force a team to decide whether one or two players should worry about them.

Yet Gronkowski just received a new deal that includes an $8 million signing bonus. Graham is set to make $540,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013. He can thank being a third-rounder for that.

Gronk is a star. On the field, so is Graham. He just isn't seen as one. He's quiet, reserved and doesn't seek the limelight.

Graham recently started flying single-engine planes, and that disclosure caused barely a ripple in the media world. Imagine if Gronk became a pilot. Cameras would clamor to take a shot of his Zubaz pants piling into the cockpit. Not with Graham.

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"I think Jimmy's a little more low-key," said Saints tight end David Thomas, who spent time in New England early in his career. "You see him out on the field, he's very energetic and I think the team feeds off his energy. But off the field, I think he's very low-key, very relaxed and very humble. He keeps to himself. I think he enjoys his solitude."

As for a new contract, it's far-fetched to think one for Graham is imminent. For one, the Saints' top priority is getting Drew Brees signed to a long-term extension. And, of course, there is the bounty investigation. It takes up so much of the attention directed at the Saints, and it's been that way all offseason.

And so, Graham is left away from the media throng, which is probably how he likes it. His contract situation is rarely debated, which he probably doesn't mind.

But soon enough, Graham will generate the attention. It will be deserved.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @rapsheet

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