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Saints sign Graham

Published 7:00am Wednesday, July 16, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints on Tuesday confirmed a multiyear contract with Jimmy Graham, ending a protracted holdout for the star tight end.

Graham skipped all of the Saints’ voluntary and mandatory practices and workouts — and challenged the NFL’s franchise tag process through arbitration.

The odds of Graham leaving the Saints were slim since the club in late February placed its franchise tag on the player.

The NFL Players Association filed a grievance, contending Graham was used as a wide receiver often enough to qualify for the more lucrative receiver tag, worth about $5 million a year more than the $7 million tag for a tight end. A hearing was held in June and earlier this month. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank sided with the NFL, ruling Graham was capable of continuing to perform specific tight end duties while lined up in the slot or within 4 yards of an offensive tackle.

Once the ruling was in place, Graham had a choice of appealing or trying to reach a long-term contract by a July 15 deadline — after which he would have to play next season for his franchise tag number. A favorable ruling from Burbank would have further enhanced negotiating leverage for Graham, who last season led the Saints with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Graham, a former college basketball player who played one year of football at Miami, was the Saints’ third-round draft choice in 2010. In his second season, Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards. That total stood briefly as a yards receiving record for tight ends. That same day the mark was broken on the final day of that season by New England’s Rob Gronkowski, who finished with 1,327.

Graham has led the Saints in catches the past three seasons and led them in yards receiving and touchdowns in two of the last three seasons. For the past three regular seasons, he has 270 catches for 3,507 yards and 36 touchdowns.

• Also, the Indianapolis Colts have waived backup wide receiver LaVon Brazill, one week after he was suspended for the 2014 season by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy.

Brazill was suspended for the first four games last season for violating the substance abuse policy. He said at the time it was for marijuana use.

Brazill played in 10 games last season, finishing with 12 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Over two seasons, including the playoffs, he had 30 catches for 491 yards and five touchdowns. He was drafted in the sixth round out of Ohio University in 2012.

The Colts on Friday also signed free agent wide receiver Aaron Burks, a rookie from Boise State.

And, the NFL has suspended Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Spencer Nealy for the first four games of next season for violating rules against performance-enhancing drugs.

The league announced the suspension on Friday. Nealy will not be paid during his suspension, but he is eligible to participate in all practices, offseason programs and preseason games.

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