Tony Gonzalez is right. Jimmy Graham is now the highest paid tight end in the NFL, but is still underpaid compared with other players.
Gonzalez told For The Win:
“If you look at the numbers and production and what he means to that team, I think he’s underpaid still. If you compare him to all the other elite receivers around the league and leading the league with 16 touchdowns, 1200 yards and 14 yards per catch. That’s an elite receiver and he should be paid like one. Just because he’s a tight end and that’s the name of his position he’s going to be paid less. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Graham has performed like an elite receiver over the last three years. Let’s look at the tight end and wide receiver leaders over the last three seasons.
Graham leads all wide receivers and tight ends in touchdowns (36) and is eighth in total receiving yards (3,507) during that span. There is little debate that Graham was the most productive tight end in football last year. Graham leads all tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) metric, which “gives the value of the performance on plays where this TE caught the ball, compared to a replacement-level TE in the same game situations and then translated into yardage.”
Graham will earn more money next season than all but four players on the list— Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Andre Johnson and Vincent Jackson— and with the exception of Megatron, it’s hard to argue that Graham shouldn’t be paid more than the other three receivers. The key factor in this discussion, though, is the NFL’s policy of non-guaranteed contracts. Only half of Graham’s contract is guaranteed, so if Graham were to suffer a career-ending injury in training camp, he would receive less guaranteed money than the Miami Heat’s Josh McRoberts.
Considering how vital Graham has already been to the Saints and how woefully underpaid he was over his first four years — again, $3.3 million in four years — Graham can still be considered underpaid relative to his contemporaries.