Graham’s franchise-tag designation pits practicality against letter of CBA

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Soon, the Saints will apply the franchise tag to tight end Jimmy Graham.  Soon after that, Graham will file a grievance, claiming that he’s actually a receiver.

And he has roughly 4.5 million reasons to make that argument.

Already, folks are chiming in on whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver.

During Super Bowl week, quarterback Drew Brees provided an answer that (in fairness to Drew) didn’t take into account the $4.5 million swing that applies if Graham is a tight end or a receiver for franchise-tag purposes.  Today, Peter King of TheMMQB.com argues aggressively that Graham is a tight end for purposes of the tag.

“I think Jimmy Graham is a tight end, regardless of where he lines up on the field,” King writes. “It’s ludicrous there’s even a discussion about whether Graham should be tendered as a tight end (at a franchise number of $6.8 million) or wide receiver (at $11.6 million).”

Peter, to borrow one of your favorite phrases, you’re wrong.  And here’s why.

The CBA is why.  Specifically, article 10, Section 2(a)(i) is why.

The labor deal requires that the franchise player be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.”

So it’s not “ludicrous” that there’s a discussion, because Graham lined up tight to the tackle only one third of the time in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.  It’s also not ludicrous because the Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley started down this road in 2012, with the Packers ultimately unwilling to roll the dice in the grievance process, instead striking a two-year deal with Finley while the challenge to his designation as a tight end was looming.  If the argument was ludicrous, the Packers surely would have held firm.

It’s likewise not ludicrous because the Titans opted not to even tag tight end Jared Cook last year, for fear that:  (1) he’d file a grievance; (2) he’d opt to not settle it; (3) he’d win; and (4) the Titans would be stuck paying him an eight-figure salary for 2013.

King’s ultimate argument isn’t ludicrous.  The modern tight end position entails moving the player around.  A tight end who lines up only a third of the time as a tight end is still a tight end, because receivers almost never line up as tight ends.  That’s the argument the Saints should make after Graham files a grievance.

Still, the CBA says what it says.

Is it ludicrous that the CBA doesn’t separate tackles, guards, and centers into separate categories, forcing any team that wants to tag a center or guard to pay him like an elite left tackle?  Yep.  But the CBA has one category for offensive linemen, and as a result centers and guards rarely if ever get tagged.

“It’s going to be a sad day for football if head coaches like Sean Payton have to consider when they formulate a game plan, ‘Well, I can’t flex Graham out too often, or he’ll be considered a wide receiver,'” King writes.  “Just a stupid, stupid can of worms that has been opened up.”

That can of worms was opened at least two years ago with Finley.  Unless and until a team successfully persuades a third party that tight ends are still tight ends even if they take more than half the snaps as receivers, the worms will be crawling all over the place, in plain sight.

That’s not ludicrous.  It’s one of the realities of the NFL.  Until a team fights the battle and wins it, tight ends who spend more than half their time lining up as something other than a tight end will have a non-ludicrous argument that, for the purposes of the franchise tag, they aren’t really tight ends.

83 responses to “Graham’s franchise-tag designation pits practicality against letter of CBA

  1. I can see both sides of the coin. However when listed on the roster, in the lineup, and anywhere he is called a TE, not a WR. If he would go to the ProBowl it would be as a TE.

    So he should be paid as a TE. If he wants to switch his designation to WR, then he should try to do that. However, 2 things on that, first I don’t think many teams would line him up as a WR, and if they did I don’t know that they would give him the money that he thinks he is worth.

    He admits that he is a TE, that should be where it begins and ends.

  2. Nfl and their rule book lol wish football went back to the old days . When money didnt matter. When the nfl wasnt a buisness . It was a game that players loved to play for fun respect and pride. Now players will only play if the money is right

  3. He is a tight end but due to cba language he was a WR last year. Saints are stuck between a rok and a hard space, they need him and another threat on top of the rest of the receiving core they had last year.

  4. A team like the Saints use their positions differently from teams. The Saints spread offense always will require players to line up at different spots. Such as lining RBs and TEs at the slot position. They are still TEs and RBs

  5. You don’t think that rule applies to special teamers or a defensive lineman that comes in to catch a touchdown like Sapp did back in the day? Rules are rules! The fact that everyone has to stretch the truth and fight a rule is one of the many reasons of a declining nation!

  6. So fans want him to get paid like a TE but be used like a WR? No surprise there.

    If he gets used like a WR then he should be paid as one. I would like to see how all of you would react if work as an Executive and get paid as a regular.

  7. How many TEs still line up next to the tackle a majority of the time? and shouldn’t those guys be claiming they should be franchised as OTs since they spend a majority of their time blocking edge rushers?

  8. 1st, he had more catches, yards, and TD’s than 99% of any receiver this year.

    2nd, with Gronk and Hernandez getting 10 and 9 mil. a year, he deserves to be in that group.

    3rd, he is 2 years past due for a contract extension making big money, and to be tagged at 6.8 mil. is equivalent to a slap in the face.

    PAY THE MAN!!!

  9. As always, King uses his leverage in the media to make his point, then will duck & cover.

    The guy lined up at WR 2/3 of the time yet he’s still a TE? Sorry that’s a horrible argument.

  10. Based on how poorly he blocks I would say he’s a wide receiver. On the other hand, in his last game against Seattle he had one catch for six yards. Can they tender him as a right tackle?

  11. is a rb considered a wr when motioned out. no? where the te lines up is irrelevant. he is rostered as a te. the te can motion, he can offset, he can block, he can even throw it, that doesnt mean that he is qb for that play. the cba rule explanation is out of context here. it does not matter where he is on the field, for 100% of the saints offensive plays he is in fact a rostered te. king is right, your wrong

  12. How often was he the widest man out in any given formation? I’d bet it wasn’t very often.

    Tight End is not defined in the same sense as it was in the past. Not getting a chance to be a post up nightmare against less athletic LB’s and SS’s would diminish his value greatly. A 6’6 guy doing work inside the furthest outside recievers is a TE regardless of if his hand is down or not….in my book at least.

    The difference between elite slot guys like Welker or Edleman and tight ends like Graham or Gates is obvious.

  13. I have no problem with him being a WR. As long as he never makes the Pro Bowl as a TE, is no longer in the argument for best TE in the league, and is always referred to as a WR.

    His numbers are still good as a WR, but he isnt one of the top 3 in the league at his position anymore if he is a WR. Cant have it both ways

  14. @adlent
    Interesting point. He’s only a ProBowler he if he calls himself a TE.

    For a franchise tag, the top 5 WR salaries are higher than the top 5 TE salaried so now he calls himself a WR.

    Not sure all the old school NFL players that paved the way for today’s players will feel bad for old jimmy if he’s labeled a TE and only gets $425,000 per game.

  15. When does the play designation start? He has lined up as a TE and then moved outside pre-snap.

    IMHO he is a TE. Roster says so, contract he signed says so, pro bowl designation says so, etc.

    Change the franchise tag to a universal tag with a set limit (or 10% raise for players already making more than the set cap) that goes up dramatically each year if the same player gets tagged. That forces a team to place the tag on the one player they need/want to keep in a given year rather than a device to underpay a player who could get more from another team.

  16. They need to start including the line “and other duties as assigned” in some of these contracts. We all have to do more than our normal work duties and sometimes it sucks, but man up and do it.

  17. This is a basic problem with the Franchise tag. In the free marketplace, he would be compensated according to his explosive potential. The Saints will rely on the differential between what top WRs get paid per their franchise tag versus TEs. Probably just smart business by New Orleans but effectively Jimmy Graham misses out compared to what he would be able to earn.
    Maybe the Franchise tag should be scrapped.

  18. hes a wide receiver. thats how they use him. have you ever seen him stay in as a pass blocker? have you ever seen him try to block a defensive end? these pass catchers are not tight ends.

  19. Sounds like he’s a 1/3 TE – 2/3 WR. Pay him 1/3 the TE franchise amount and 2/3 the WR franchise amount. My math says that’s almost exactly $10 million.

    I know this is way oversimplified, but sometimes things are just that simple.

  20. How about they take the percentage of his WR routes and multiply it by the WR franchise tag, plus the percentage of TE plays times the TE tag. Add those two figures together, divide by two and that is his pay for next year. It’s called a compromise.

  21. Jimmy Graham – WR NO Saints!!!
    PAY DA MAN!!!!!!
    Mickey you cheap bastard! I hate Drew Bres with a passion and now I hope Jimmy does too.
    IF You aren’t gonna pay the man like a WR, let him walk, you’ll be a 8-8 team in no time!

  22. As good as he is, it’s another distraction now that the Saints don’t need. Tag him as a tight end, if it’s overruled, trade him. I’m sure some team would give up something good to get him without having to outbid some other team…

  23. In college he was a TE, drafted as a TE, position title TE, pro bowl TE, his momma says he’s a TE, and my wife only looks at football to see his TE, so I guess he’s a receiver

  24. saints offense was a well oiled machine without him,,they even won a superbowl,,,brees was more efficient when he was truly spreading the ball around,the last 2 seasons hes resorted to falling on graham like a crutch,kenny stills has over the top speed and will gladly take some of those looks,so will the popssesion reciever Toon,lots of talent coming in april,,he is simply not worth the cap hit,too many other needs to adress

  25. It’s one of the reasons the Pats locked up Hernandez early. His agent was already talking that they may have to go down this road and the Pats tried to be preemtive. Unfortunately Hernandez decided to go premeditated

  26. This is where karma comes back to bite a team in the butt.

    Lets review why this rule is in place, in regards to the position played for starters.

    The rule was writing into the books because of the popularity of the 3-4 defense. Teams would draft DE’s with range and convert them to OLB’s for their 3-4 defense. Then it became a fight, with people like Terrell Suggs (and ifi remember correctly Anthony Spencer and/or Demarcus Ware did it in Dallas too) challenging the tag, claiming they were DE’s because the franchise # was much higher for a DE than it was for LB’s and they spent the majority of the time rushing the passer, even if it was from the LB spot.

    Hence the rule of position they lined up at the most, to eliminate that fight and make 3-4 LB’s Linebackers, because thats where they lined up, and the league could save money on their contracts.

    Now that rule is working against them, i think it is only fair that they stick to the rule that they invented to keep money away from franchised players.

    But even then the rule backfired, as all it has really done is force teams to pay 3-4 OLB’s like DE.

  27. The CBA says what it says. It was probably worded that way for just this reason. I normally like Peter’s point of view, but “should-be” and “can of worms” is not the basis of a sound discussion.

  28. People, people, it’s not about the position label, his jersey number, his pro bowl designation, what he played in college or Kiper’s or McShay’s draft board.

    It is about the actually space he occupied on the field. If 2/3 of that is WR, then that’s the classification his pay should be based on. There is no room for debate. It’s written in black and white.

    When an RB lines up at WR more than RB, he’s a WR. If the NFL needs to raise cap numbers to accommodate this new use of the TE, that’s on them. Pay the man.

  29. Tight ends were not primary receivers at all before Ditka. Fullbacks were the primary ballcarriers for many years. The 3-4 OLB did not exist until relatively recently in the NFL. And most importantly, 3,000 yard passing seasons used to be a major accomplishment, as were 1,000 yard rushing or receiving seasons.

    Bottom line is the game evolves, either by changes in the rules, or by the athletes who play the game. Is Jimmy Graham a better player than Tony Gonzalez in his prime? Is he a more well-rounded TE than Gronk (on the rare occasions that he is healthy)? The answer is he is the same as both of those players; he is a tight end. Formations, utilization, and everything else is secondary to the position he plays.

    And as far as being used as a receiver 2/3 of the time, think of it this way. Every play that Graham is on the field, he is an eligible receiver. Same goes for every tight end in the league. he just happens to be a better receiving matchup than the receivers he plays with. Whether or not he gets the ball, he is an eligible receiver on every play. So the argument is silly. He would have to claim that other tight ends are not eligible receivers on every play, and therefore his function and purpose are different on a fundamental level. Not going to happen, but it could delay long enough to prevent the Saints from using the tag because of the cap room it eats up.

    And after the Seahawks just shut him out for an entire game, he should shut up and take the TE tag money.

  30. Two ways to look at this:

    1. Don’t franchise tag him…….Negotiate a fair contract that recognizes that he is a TE only 1/2 the time and a WR the other……..He is elite and will be for a long time. He actually is worth the WR money, anyway.

    2. Since this issue will not be resolved until arbitrated and this is a good test case, maybe it’s time we get it resolved. Tag him, see what the result is but prepare your team’s cap space strategy as if your going to lose……Because it sure looks like you will.

    I would go with #1.

  31. I find it startling that so many people on here side with Big Business. These teams are huge profitable organizations and they use the Franchise Tag to restrict players from their right to a free market.

    I’ve always hated the Franchise Tag. Teams use it to underpay somebody who should be making more if they were on the open market. Please tell me, how does the tag help players at all? When’s the last time a guy got tagged when he would have made less had he not been tagged?

    Go Jimmy! Fight the power and get paid what you’ve EARNED!

  32. How about drafting a real talented WR with your first round pick and give your QB someone else to really throw to then your TE? Just a thought.

    Colston and Moore are garbage. I could cover them. You can’t keep hoping that Brees’s magic can mask that terrible WR corps and realistically get back to the Super Bowl.

  33. Define “League Year” for me. 16 game regular season, Jimmy Graham lined up more than 50% of time at Tight End position. Case closed? Possibly, adding post season may sway the 50 plus % to Wide Receiver. Tricky Tricky.

  34. Think the argument that he’s plays TE in the Pro Bowl so thats his position doesn’t hold much water. With 1200 yards and 16 TD he’d be a Pro Bowler as a TE or WR had he been labled such. Stack Graham’s stats over the past three season vs just about any WR in the league (outside of Megatron) and they you can debate who the better receiver is over that time period.

  35. Glad he is going ot get paid. There is absolutely no way that the Saints can screw him on this. It is written and it is so. Unless a team is going to scrap its plans to flex a TE out at the expense of creating the mismatch, they have that right. Until then, either meet in the middle or pay the big money that is even bigger because of the bust-to-be named Mike Wallace.

  36. The Tag doesn’t underpay them, in fact typically it overpays them (average of top 5 salaries at the position), just for a year though.

    The big issue typically is that the players want more than 1 year. They want to protect themselves in case of injury, which is a valid concern.

    The Franchise Tag is a means of getting both the team and the player to negotiate as it has extreme ramifications for both sides.

    I don’t side with Big Business, BUT in this case Graham is worth top 5 TE money, not top 5 WR money. On the market he wouldn’t get top 5 WR money from any team. He isn’t even in the realm of Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, or any of the other top 10 receivers. So act as if he is?

  37. @bigjdve Graham’s numbers the past 3 years are similar or better than any WR in the league sans Calvin how is he not in the realm of Andre or Fitz when he’s the more productive player?

  38. I don’t see why parties can’t meet in the middle or at least discuss the idea of a compromise. Why is the media broadcasting this as black or white?

    Why not split the difference between TE (6.8 mill) and WR (11.6)and tag Jimmy at $9.2 million?

    Or, create a sliding pay scale according to the percentage of times at the positions for the previous season.

    Jimmy scored more points for the franchise than the WR’s did. What’s that worth?

  39. All of this discussion is pointless anyway. Look at what they did to Drew, tagged him, he refused to sign, they negotiated a deal before training camp. That’s exactly what they will do with Graham. They are just using the tag to bide time while they work out a long term contract.

  40. I think we can all agree that the language of the CBA needs to be more fair and simple, or complex enough to delineate a clear and logical explanation for anything that can come up that currently can be confusing or befuddling in any way. Like “where the player lined up”, what does that mean? That can mean something to one person and something else to another. There’s no definitions to describe precisely how to identify what position is being credited to the player at the snap. A team can call him a TE and say that’s a TE spot, but there shouldn’t be a chance for a team to creatively decide what these positions are, that should be out of their control and determined by guess what, the CBA! Just we need it explained a better way that solves the problem and takes a team’s potential conflict of interest out of the equation, and the player as well.

    There is so much drama and distraction over this issue and there is no reason for that. All of this frustration and wasted time to discuss and argue over this matter is manufactured out of the poor language of the CBA. I say pay him like a WR and have the Player’s Union pay for the difference, or DeMaurice Smith can write a check. I don’t care if Smith pays for it, that’s a better problem than Graham paying for it as far as I’m concerned. Those are the people responsible for putting Graham in this awkward position, and now he and the team can’t have a smooth sailing partnership, so because he’s a good player instead of getting rewarded the team and the player now have to co-exist as teammates that have money issues to grumble over? There’s no good reason to want to invent forcing teams and franchise players into these murky disagreement situations. Work out a clean and fair deal that makes sense. Take Smith and other responsible parties to court if you have to, just get the money right and penalize those that didn’t do a good job in the past and weed them out of opportunities to create future problems, such as by firing them. Well this is up to Jimmy now to decide how much he wants to collect on the monies that he feels he has a legal right to.

  41. If he only lined up 1/3 of the time as a tight end, then he’s a receiver. All I know is that, for the most part, teams defend him as a receiver and not a blocker.

  42. The key question you didn’t answer is – how does the CBA designate the position Tight End, if it’s not defined then King is right he is clearly a TE by today’s usage pattern.

  43. I would think that teams should start being specific in their contract language to say something like, “Jimmy Graham agrees to play Tight End for the Saints”. That way, if the player goes to the franchise tag, it’s clear that he agreed to play TE and his tag would be set accordingly. Seems like a simple thing to add to the contract.

  44. I tend to disagree, I believe his numbers have been better than Fitzgerald and Andre’s the last few years. That said, I’m actually not even for him getting tagged at all. I believe he should be pursued as a free agent. He’s certainly worth more than a top 5 tight end, he’s clearly the best pass catching TE in football. Should he be paid like Calvin? No. Should he be payed better than $7 million? Yes.

  45. Pay the man for what he does, which is play WR. These hybrid players are talented, and should not be penalized because they can help the team out more. He played over 65 % of his snaps as a WR, so he really should at least get 65% of that 4.5 mil IMHO.

  46. If the Saints were smart, they would have lined him up on the line more often and then motion him out wide.

  47. His stats are on par with top receivers but he is also often covered by linebackers and safeties. Not necessarily top corners. So if he were a WR 100% of the time its hard to say where his stats would measure up. He has freak size so I’m sure they would still be pretty good, but I doubt they would be pro bowl #’s

  48. Saints just do not try to franchise him. Let him test the waters and then match the highest price or pay him like you should. He is a hybrid and needs to be acknowledged as such. There would be several teams that would pay good money to have him on their team. Some of them even have the cap room to afford to pay him. He has played out his contract that he had in a good for the team role. Now he wants to be acknowledge as such. Either pay him or let him go. I think it is called supply and demand. It is that way in business usually.

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