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How Jimmy Graham and Dennis Pitta could influence Jermaine Gresham

With Graham and Pitta entering free agency as unrestricted free agents, we curious how that translates for Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Rob Carr

It'll be interesting to see how contract negotiations play out for New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, and to some degree, Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta. Reports suggest that neither player is close to signing a long-term deal, both of whom will be free agents on March 11, inviting the likelihood that the Saints and Ravens could use the franchise tag.

Projected numbers for using the franchise tag on a tight end is $6.7 million.

As a result, both players are threatening grievances if they're franchised as a tight end, and not a wide receiver, which carries a projected tender of $11.52 million -- nearly a $5 million difference based on the position that they're identified as. There is some argument to that. Graham lined up as a slot receiver 268 times in 2013, and nearly half of Pitta's total routes were as a slot receiver.

How does this relate to Jermaine Gresham?

Maybe not much. Maybe more than you realize. Gresham, who was selected in the first-round of the 2010 NFL draft, is entering the final year of a five-year rookie contract. With a $3.4 million base salary and a $4.832 million cap number, Gresham actually figures as a possible cap casualty -- saving the Bengals $3.611 million against the 2014 cap. Don't play that card -- it's probably the least likely of all scenarios.

Though frustration been (justifiably) leveled against Gresham over the years, from the drops earlier in his career to the most recent trend of fumbling the football (lost three fumbles in 2013), Gresham's name could be argued as a brief mention among the franchise's best tight ends, comparing the four-year start to their respective careers.

Jermaine Gresham 218 2,265 19
Dan Ross 215 2,658 13
Bob Trumpy 143 2,485 17
Tony McGee 177 2,217 9
Rodney Holman* 145 2,014 14
* First four years as a starter (played first two years as a backup).

When Gresham enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent next year, could the team negotiate a long-term deal with Gresham -- better yet, will the franchise tag in play? Yes and no, depending on contract negotiations with names like Andy Dalton and Clint Boling. Note: A.J. Green has a fifth-year option that would equal a transition tender, so the franchise tag won't be in play for him.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gresham ran 94 routes as a slot receiver in 2013 -- roughly 21 percent of his total routes and not near enough when comparing him to Graham and Pitta. Targeted 22 times as a slot receiver, Gresham caught 11 passes for 179 yards with two touchdowns. Comparatively speaking, Tyler Eifert played the slot 111 times -- 26.8 percent of his total routes in 2013.

Now. Most fans would probably prefer that Gresham skips town when his contract expires after the 2014 season (most of whom would probably drive him to the airport) -- it's also possible that many want to release him right now to free over $3.6 million in cap room. Facing reality, the latter scenario is the least likely.

Based on how negotiations go with Graham and Pitta this summer, it'll be interesting to see where Gresham lands. Will the Bengals allow the contract to expire and watch the market dictate his value? Will they sign him to a long-term deal, with a contract somewhere between Graham and Pitta? Is this partnership on a path towards dissolution?

While we're not projecting an immediate reaction to Graham and Pitta, we wouldn't be surprised if there's some influence on Cincinnati's negotiation with Gresham.