San Francisco 49ers

Jimmy Graham deal raises the bar for TEs, including Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis is now the fourth highest-paid tight end in the league. As expected, the Saints’ Jimmy Graham now leads the way at the position after agreeing to a four-year deal that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is worth as much as $40 million.

Contract numbers always shift around some after the initial reports come out. But it’s safe to assume that Graham’s numbers -- let’s call it a $10 million-per-year average -- now become a target for Davis, who was a no-show during the 49ers’ spring practices and who is likely to extend his holdout into training camp. Veterans like him are due to report on July 23.

“Woohoo! That works for me!” Davis told Maggie Gray on SI Now last month when asked if he wanted to see Graham get a new deal.

Davis’ current deal, which he signed in 2010, averages $7.35 million per season, which puts him behind Graham, Dallas’ Jason Witten and New England’s Rob Gronkowski. Unlike Graham, Davis can’t argue that he is used more as a wide receiver than a tight end. But he can argue, like Graham, that he has been a huge part of the team’s offense. Davis has been the 49ers’ only true deep threat in the passing game and last year had 15 of the team’s 24 touchdown catches including the playoffs.

Graham lost his recent grievance hearing over whether he should be treated, financially speaking, as a wide receiver. But he did ultimately succeed in raising the value of tight ends. That appears to be Davis’ argument as well: His position has become more valuable than it was when he signed his deal four years ago, and he is one of the top players at the position.

One key difference between the two players: Davis is 30 while Graham is 27. Another? Graham had reached the final year of his contract while Davis still has two more years on his.

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