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Jimmy Graham, Saints agree to 4-year, $40M contract

Drew Brees' favorite target is now a happy one.

Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints reached an agreement on a four-year, $40 million contract that makes the pass-catcher the highest-paid tight end in the league, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday, per a source involved in the deal. The team later confirmed that they agreed to terms on a multi-year deal.

Graham received a $12 million signing bonus and between $20 to $21 million of the deal is guaranteed, Rapoport reported. Graham will be paid $13 million -- more money than if he was ruled a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes -- but will carry just a $4 million cap number for 2014. He will earn $21 million over the first two years of the contract and $30 million over three years.

The tight end's new contract places him above Rob Gronkowski's annual average salary of $9 million per season. Graham also got a higher guaranteed number than Gronk's $16.5 million on the Patriots' six-year, $53 million extension signed in 2012.

The four-year pact gives Graham another shot at free agency when he is 31 years old.

Graham and the Saints underwent a fierce offseason battle after the team placed the franchise tag on the player. Graham argued he should be tagged at the wide receiver level -- not the tight end level (a $5 million difference). The Saints won the system-arbitration decision.

On Monday, Rapoport reported that Graham appealed the league's arbitration decision that he is a tight end for franchise tag purposes. That move was insurance in case the two sides couldn't come to an agreement on a long-term deal. The appeal now becomes moot.

Graham and the Saints had until Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline to get a long-term deal signed. Much like Brees' negotiation with the Saints in 2012, deadlines generally spurn action.

Graham certainly deserves to be the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. He led the league last year with 16 touchdowns and gobbled up 86 passes for 1,215 yards -- despite being slowed by a plantar fascia injury for most of the second half of the season.

The $10 million average salary pays Graham closer to $12 million receiver tag than the $7 million tight end tag.

On its face, that average salary is similar to the contract extension receiver Brandon Marshall signed this offseason -- Marshall got a slightly higher guarantee at $22.3 million.

Graham's guaranteed money also outdistances the recent tight end deals of Jared Cook and Dennis Pitta by $5 million.

The Saints tight end would slide next to Marshall, as the seventh-highest deal for a receiver based on yearly average, with the guaranteed number placing him at No. 6 among wideout contracts, per spotrac.com.

The facts of the deal boil down simply: Graham got paid as a top-flight pass-catcher -- which he is -- and can test the market again in 2018. The Saints locked up their most dynamic playmaker for four seasons at a reasonable cost.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" bangs the table for Cordarrelle Patterson and predicts which stars will soon descend.

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