Now that the games have ended for the Saints, it’s time for a fight.
Not like the name-calling, hat-grabbing pregame brouhaha from Saturday. A fight about money.
Tight end Jimmy Graham has completed his four-year rookie contract. He’s due to become a free agent on March 11. Despite the opinions of some, Graham will attract a huge offer if he hits the open market.
The Saints can keep Graham from leaving (or at least make it harder) at any point from February 17 through March 3, via the franchise tag. But if/when the Saints apply the tight end version of the tag, the stage will be set for a fight over whether Graham should be tagged as a receiver.
The analysis should be simple. Under Article 9, Section 2 of the CBA, “[T]he tender will apply to the position in which the player participated in the most plays.” Thus, if Graham was lined up wide or in the slot more times than he was lined up as a tight end, he’s a receiver.
A significant difference exists between the franchise tag for receivers and tight ends; last year, it was $4.5 million.
The Saints could counter by arguing that the tight end position has changed in recent years, and that a tight end can be a tight end without lining up half the time as a tight end. To support their argument, the Saints could calculate the tight end vs. slot/wide percentages for other tight ends on other teams who ultimately were paid as tight ends, not as receivers.
If a franchise-tag fight begins, it may not continue to a conclusion. Two years ago, the Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley started down that path before working out a compromise.
The Saints surely hope to keep Graham, even though there’s been so sign of progress. Two years ago, they pushed the tag process to the limit with quarterback Drew Brees, signing him to a long-term deal just before the deadline for doing so in July.