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Jimmy Graham, Saints at 'ground zero' in negotiations

Now that Jimmy Graham is locked in as a tight end under the franchise tag, the question is whether he can agree to a long-term contract with the New Orleans Saints by the July 15 deadline for franchised players.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday's edition of NFL Total Access that agent Jimmy Sexton and general manager Mickey Loomis will be starting at "ground zero" in negotiations.

Both sides were waiting for Wednesday's ruling as a benchmark for talks. Graham now has 10 days to appeal, which looms as a potential complication.

There is a very real possibility, per Rapoport, that Graham will balk at signing his tender if there is no agreement by the deadline.

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank suggested as much in his ruling, stating that Graham's "consideration of whether to accept the Franchise Player tender is affected by whether the tender is for a one-year contract of $7 million, or $12 million."

In a worst-case scenario for the Saints, Graham could travel the route paved by Logan Mankins in 2010 when the Patriots guard skipped training camp, failed to report for the start of the regular season and only rejoined the team in early November, thereby accruing a season toward free agency.

On the positive side, though, NFL Media's Albert Breer notes the Saints have been "100 percent prepared" for this scenario and still anticipate an agreement with Graham "right before" the July 15 deadline.

The tight-end ruling will provide clarity in negotiations, setting Graham's value below the top-tier wide-receiver market. If Graham is due to collect $15-16 million under the franchise tag for the next two years, the Saints might be able to appease him by offering more than $20 million up front.

The bottom line: If we don't have an answer to Graham's contract status in two weeks, the issue could linger well into the 2014 season.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" debates Jay Cutler's ceiling and looks back at the NFL in the '90s.

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