"I'd hate to not have Jimmy," Brees told USA Today's Jarrett Bell at the New Orleans Saints' minicamp Tuesday. "I'm very confident that a deal will get done. But if it doesn't, you worry about what you do have and who you do have out there."
The expectation is that an arbitrator's decision on whether Graham should be designated as a tight end or wide receiver for tag purposes (a difference of more than $5 million) will set the table for long-term contract negotiations.
Depending on how long the standoff lasts, Brees might have to begin working with his revamped offense without his big target. The veteran quarterback, however, noted that the Saints' offense rolled along just fine before the 6-foot-7 pass-catcher arrived.
"Look at our numbers over the last eight years," he said. "We've had a lot of different guys in there. Jimmy's only been here four years. He's only been here half the time. We were putting up some pretty big numbers before he got here, and we've been putting up some big numbers since he's been here."
Graham led the Saints with 86 catches, 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He has 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns in his four seasons. Brees has thrown for more than 4,300 yards in each of his eight seasons in New Orleans (the past three being consecutive 5,000-plus seasons).
The quarterback understands contract standoffs. Brees missed most offseason work in 2012 during a contract-staring contest with the Saints. He signed his $100 million deal just before training camp. We expect Graham's situation to similarly work itself out before he ultimately misses any meaningful time.
"I expect to have him, but it's just like if he gets injured," Brees said. "What happens if he gets hurt? You've got to roll without him. The one game he was hurt back in 2012, I think we threw for about 400 (yards). So you find other ways to make the system work."