Broncos, Daniel Graham both glad he has returned to Mile High City By Mike Klis Denver Post Staff Writer Article Last Updated: 08/02/2007 12:18:43 AM MDT (Post / Omar Vega) For the first time in his professional life, Daniel Graham is within sniffing distance of Mom's home cooking. He doesn't need a flight to hang out with his childhood buddies or pay long-distance charges to get advice from Dad. Instead of paying $12 for a hamburger at a restaurant chain in an unfamiliar town, the Broncos tight end knows he can get his money's worth by having twin brother Joshua come fire up his family-secret barbecue. Playing professional football for the hometown team is seemingly the stuff of childhood dreams, where people are so proud of the Denver kid that made good, they treat him like family. "A lot of people have said they're related to me," Graham said after the Broncos' training camp workout Wednesday. "I've come across that quite a bit already. It's interesting when people come up to you and say, 'So and so says he knows you,' or whatever. And I have no idea who they are." Graham had gathered many friends and acquaintances while playing at Denver's Thomas Jefferson High School and the University of Colorado. The locals must have been especially proud to learn Graham grew up to become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, at least in terms of money paid through the first three years of a contract. "Yeah, there's a lot more people who think they know him," Joshua said while watching his brother practice from the Dove Valley sidelines Wednesday morning. "But Daniel has always known the same amount people who followed him through high school and college." For a few days during the offseason, Graham's contract created buzz not only among his people here in Denver, but across the NFL. How could the Broncos pay $20 million over the first three years of Graham's contract when Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, who caught 52 more passes in 2006, had just signed the position's previous three-year high of $17 million? As often happens with unprecedented deals, there wasn't one reason but a confluence of fortunate circumstances that led to Graham's payday. First, it had been a while since a premier tight end hit the free-agent market. Graham had been a prominent receiving threat for New England early in his career but he was turned into a blocker, and then a free agent, by the emergence of Ben Watson. Next, Graham hit the market as the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were in a bidding war for defensive end Patrick Kerney. Seattle won with a six-year, $39.5 million contract worth a guaranteed $19.5 million. About an hour later, the Broncos and Seahawks were competing again, this time for Graham. "Had we lost Patrick Kerney, we would have got Daniel Graham," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said at the NFL owners meetings in late March. "And once we signed Kerney, I don't think there was any way Denver was going to lose Daniel Graham. And bless his heart, Daniel Graham was in the right place at the right time. Because I can just picture his agent holding two telephones. And as the bidding went up, finally it was chicken, and we pulled off." The Seahawks stopped at $17 million through three years, while the Broncos met the desires of Graham's agents, Jack and Tom Mills. "There were a lot of contracts out there that made me go 'Wow,"' Carolina coach John Fox said. "But in my humble opinion, I agree with (Seattle and Denver) because a tight end like Daniel Graham is hard to find. "There have been the little guys who are basically receivers. And then there are the big guys who all they can do is block. But finding that guy who can do both is a huge weapon." Besides, Graham's new deal no longer raises many eyebrows. Thanks to a 45.3 percent increase in the salary cap since 2004 ($75 million to the current $109 million), a continuing NFL spending spree has delivered record contracts at nearly every position. "When you consider everything Daniel brings, we think we got a great deal," Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said. "Ultimately, intangibles came into it, the fact he played college ball here, he's from here, the relationships we have with his agents. All that adds up." Graham has also done some figuring and concluded the benefits of playing for his hometown team far outweigh the disadvantages. He may have trouble remembering his long-lost relative who once bought him an ice cream cone, but Graham wouldn't live anywhere else. Even while he was winning Super Bowls in New England, Graham bought his home here for the offseason. "I've had my house out here for four or five years," he said. "Now I get to live in it." Staff writer Mike Klis can be reached at 303-954-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.