New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham is set to argue that he should be considered a wide receiver rather than a tight end for franchise tag purposes at a grievance hearing on June 17.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement posits that the franchise tag designation corresponds with the position “at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.”
There is however, no easy answer to the question indirectly posed by the language in the CBA. The NFL Management Council is expected to counter Graham and the players union by demonstrating that he lined up predominantly at the tight end position.
“The union’s position is a naked cash grab,” a source stated, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “It ignores Mr. Graham’s use as a traditional tight end on roughly 60 percent of the snaps where he lined up within 4 yards of the tackle. It also ignores the historical use of the tight end position.”
“Since the days of Mike Ditka, coaches have split the tight end wide to gain information about the defensive set and gain a matchup advantage. According to the union’s position, last year’s All-Pro tight end was not a tight end and Mike Ditka was a wide receiver.
- Naturally, as Triplett’s article notes, the players union will counter the Management Council by referencing ESPN Stats & information, which reflects that Graham spent 67 percent of his plays lined up in the slot or out wide as a receiver.
It is easy to see how this debate has become contentious. The evolution of the tight end position has blurred the lines in-between the formerly distinguishable tight end and wide receiver positions.
What is not in dispute however, is the magnitude of the decision to be rendered by the third-party arbiter. The difference between the receiver ($12.3 million) and the tight end ($7.035 million) designation is considerable, with Graham having a lot to gain in this situation both now, and in future negotiations.
This decision will certainly set a precedent for other tight ends who line up outside the traditional positioning. Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley have already made such overtures, according to Triplett.
Graham managed to put together a very good season, despite the fact that he was hampered by a foot injury for a good portion of the year. He totaled 86 receptions for 1,215 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 1 tight end in the league.