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.