WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis both insisted there was no awkward tension or lingering animosity that needed to be resolved after their contract negotiations with tight end Jimmy Graham this summer.
And they said they believe everyone is happy with how things ultimately worked out, with Graham signing a four-year, $40 million contract early last week.
Graham will address the media for the first time after the Saints' opening training camp practice Friday.
"Look, one of the best phone calls of the summer was he and I having a chance to visit the day of [the signing] and just touch base and kind of get moving towards this training camp," said Payton, who praised Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, for the way they handled the process -- which included an unprecedented arbitration hearing to determine whether Graham should be considered a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes.
Payton and Loomis both testified against Graham's position in that hearing. But they both insisted that didn't lead to any awkward tension that needed to be resolved.
"Believe it or not, bizarre would not be the word," Payton said when asked about the circumstances.
"Listen, I understand completely from an outside perspective how you might look at it like, 'How would that be?' But it wasn't like that," said Payton, who said he chatted with Graham during breaks over the course of the two-day hearing.
Payton also hinted that the circumstances might have been different if the case against Graham being a wide receiver wasn't so clear-cut.
"I know this: It would have been a lot harder sitting in that room trying to say [Terrell] Suggs was a linebacker, when everyone knows he's a pass-rusher," Payton said, referring to a past grievance hearing that was held to determine the position for the Baltimore Ravens standout. "But it was educational as well. I think the arbitrator really wanted to listen and pay attention to everything involved in the process. And in the end, I'm fired up for Jimmy because he's earned this opportunity now. And I know it was a lot off of his plate.
"There's a weight on your shoulders when you're at a crossroads with regards to a contract. ... Listen, I've been there as a coach in a different way. And so when it's resolved, man, there's a lot of relief."
Loomis also shot down a reporter's word choice, saying he wouldn't describe the Graham negotiations as "messy." And Loomis said he didn't feel like any fences needed to be mended with Graham when it was over.
"Look, it was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well," Loomis said. "Obviously going to an appeal hearing over the position argument was unique. But otherwise it was a negotiation. You know, all of these negotiations are tough. Obviously when it's a high-profile guy, there's more written about it. And those are personal issues for the players, in particular, and we understand that. But that's behind us. We're glad to have it done. I'm sure Jimmy's glad to have it done.
"It's just a process that we had to go through. And, look, I think both sides are pretty pleased with the outcome."
Graham apparently was fired up to be back on the field Thursday. According to Payton, Graham had the "low time" in the team's conditioning test.
"That was significant. I told him to stay in Miami every offseason," Payton said of Graham's offseason training spot. "I mean, it was outstanding."
Payton, meanwhile, wasn't too shabby himself Thursday, when he also decided to take on the team's grueling conditioning test.
Payton, who has gotten into great physical shape over the past two years through a dedication to the CrossFit workout regimen, said he wanted to get a feel for the difficulty of the workout himself -- even though he had been battling a head cold all week.
Asked whether he met his goal, Payton said, "Listen, I finished."
"After the first 5 yards of pushing that sled, my goal was to finish," Payton said. "I just didn't want that sled to be sitting halfway between the sidelines and then five players have to pull it back for the next heat."
Saints brass: All good with Graham
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