Mickey Loomis | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mickey Loomis

New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and the Saints came out the winners when a third party arbitrator ruled that team member Jimmy Graham is to be classified as a tight end for purposes of setting his "franchise tag" cost to the team. Graham wanted to be tagged as a wide receiver, which would have made his salary for the 2014 season considerably higher. (NFL teams can use the one-year franchise tag on high-value players who would otherwise become free agents—able to negotiate with other teams—if not tagged.)

The win saved the Saints $5.3 million, but it was a slim margin of victory of just four yards. That's how far from the offensive linemen Graham typical lined up for plays last year, and arbitrator Stephen Burbank concluded that Graham was therefore a player who fulfills the three roles of a tight end—blocking on run plays, blocking on pass plays and running passing routes—because he lined up within those four yards for the majority of his plays.

Instead of Graham being tagged as a wide receiver and making $12.13 million, he will make $7.05 million (the average of the five highest salaries at that position) as a tight end. The victory allows the Saints to keep Graham and still have room to sign other players under their NFL-mandated salary cap. It also gives the Saints a little more leverage in the ongoing contract negotiations with Graham. New Orleans would have a hard time being able to reach an agreement on a long-term deal if Graham had won arbitration.

The Saints and Graham have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal. If they don't reach a deal, Graham has a few choices, but would ultimately have to sign his contract tender for the tight end position if he wants to play football. Graham also has 10 days to file an appeal of the arbitration decision, but an appeal likely wouldn't go through by the July 15 deadline for a long-term deal.

Loomis has had a very good offseason with the Saints. Signing future Hall of Famer cornerback Champ Bailey adds leadership and helps younger players learn from one of the NFL's best, even if Bailey is near the end of his career. Loomis also made a deal with free agent safety Jairus Byrd—one of the biggest offseason moves for any NFL team.

Loomis and head coach Sean Payton also made some tough choices this off-season. New Orleans let starting center Brian de la Puenta and wide receiver Lance Moore leave for free agency and traded running back Darren Sproles on offense. The toughest cuts came on defense, where Loomis and the Saints said goodbye to linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith, cornerback Jabari Greer and safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins.

Loomis helped the Saints get through the tumultuous season after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005 and then built a Super Bowl-winning team after the Saints' triumphant return to New Orleans. The NFL named him Executive of the Year in 2006 after he hired Payton as head coach and lured quarterback Drew Brees to New Orleans.

All of Loomis' hard word paid off in Super Bowl XLIV, when the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. Just four short years after Katrina, Loomis and the Saints reached the pinnacle of the U.S. football achievement.

Loomis has been with the Saints since 2000 as director of football administration. During that time the team has only had four losing seasons, with three of those losing seasons being a close 7-9.

General managers tend to stay in the background, and Loomis lets Payton be the non-player face of the franchise. However, he has still done plenty to let fans see why he is one of the best general managers in the NFL since he took over the position in 2002.

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