WHITE SULPHER SPRINGS, W.Va. -- After going several rounds of contentious heavyweight sparring with management over a new contract before being awarded a split decision victory, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham showed up at training camp here in top fighting shape.
He posted the fastest time in the team's grueling CrossFit conditioning test on Thursday and then wowed onlookers Friday morning in his first practice since last season.
Graham faced reporters for the first time since signing a new four-year, $40 million contract after a contentious battle in which he battled with team officials over his position.
Graham was slapped by the club with a franchise tag as a tight end, but he wanted to be paid as a wide receiver because he lined up more last season wide and in the slot than at his listed position.
Graham eventually lost his grievance against the Saints and the NFL Management Council, and less than two weeks later agreed to the new deal after missing all of the team's offseason workouts.
"It's a tough process, especially when you don't really get into football to do things like that. ... You never see the business side of it," he said. "It was an eye-opener. But in the same respect, I'm happy that all that mess is over and that I can just focus on this team and this season."
Graham hinted that he would not have signed the franchise tender for a tight end, which was valued at just over $7 million, if he and agent Jimmy Sexton had not received a long-term deal from the Saints.
"It was, prepare to be here today or prepare to be here a lot later," he said. "I was planning on both (possibilities). I'm glad to be back.
"(Football) is all I do, and that's all I want to do. I'm just glad that's all over with."
Naturally, Brees was glad to have the 6-foot-7, 265-pound All-Pro back on the field and said little has changed in the extended time away from his teammates, which Graham spent training in Miami with former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
"Jimmy is Jimmy ... he ran the best time in the conditioning test, so there is no doubt that he is in shape and ready to roll," Brees said.
"I had multiple conversations with him and he was saying, 'Man, I am so glad to be back. I am so glad to be back in the mix in the locker room with the guys, hearing the plays again, (Brees') voice in the huddle.' I can just see it in his eyes. He has a little pep in his step and he is ready to roll."