It's amazing how fast fans turn on their heroes during contract negotiations.

Many turned on Drew Brees two years ago and now even more are criticizing Jimmy Graham for his aggressive stance in contract talks with the New Orleans Saints.

Once beloved, Graham is now belittled. He's been called greedy and selfish for having the audacity to file a grievance with the NFL over his position. A disillusioned few have even suggested the Saints '86' No. 80 to another team.

Suddenly Graham isn't the Golden Child of Black & Gold faithful.

Everyone loved Graham when he battled Seahawks defenders before the NFC playoff game in January and when he rattled the crossbar in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. But heaven forbid he battle for his long-term livelihood or rattle a system so heavily weighted in favor of management.

The grievance Graham's camp has filed with the NFL is really nothing more than a contractual Hail Mary. It's a leverage ploy.

The Saints played their trump card by using the franchise tag on Graham. Now Graham's reps are following suit.

By challenging Graham's tight end designation, agent Jimmy Sexton is trying to exploit a potential gray area in the collective bargaining agreement, which states that the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

Deep down, Graham knows he's essentially a tight end. So does Sexton. They're simply trying to maximize earning power. The real goal in this game of chicken is to establish a baseline and create leverage in negotiations for a long-term deal.

After all, it's in the Saints and Graham's best interests to complete a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.

A long-term contract will create much-needed salary cap relief for the cash-strapped Saints. They can structure a multi-year deal so it's cap-friendly in the initial years, reducing the burden of a potentially onerous $7 million or $12 million cap hit.

With Graham and Brees on the books and lucrative long-term deals looming for ends Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan in 2015 and 2016, the Saints will need all the cap room they can muster.

For Graham, a long-term deal will give him financial security. Playing year-to-year on the franchise tag is not ideal considering the number of seam routes Graham is asked to run into the gauntlet of opposing headhunters.