The question of whether Jimmy Graham will be viewed as a tight end or a wide receiver if the Saints apply the franchise tag to him has received a lot of attention in recent weeks. Less attention has been paid to the fact that Dennis Pitta and the Ravens could be headed toward a fight on the same front.
We noted last week when looking at all of the potential franchise players in the NFL that the Ravens risk an argument that Pitta is actually a receiver, driving his tender up by about $4.8 million. And now the Baltimore Sun is reporting that the uncertainty over whether Pitta will be considered a tight end or a wide receiver is complicating the Ravens’ evaluation of whether to use the franchise tag on him.
Pitta is listed as a tight end, but he often lines up as a slot receiver. If the Ravens franchise him as a tight end, they will only have to guarantee him a salary of $6.8 million in 2014. But if they franchise him as a wide receiver, they will have to guarantee him a salary of $11.6 million. Ultimately, if the Ravens try to franchise Pitta as a tight end and Pitta fights it, an arbitrator would have to watch every snap Pitta played in 2013 and decide whether he lined up as a tight end or a wide receiver more often.
An arbitrator will only get involved however, if Pitta and the Ravens fight over it. It’s also possible that they’ll agree on a long-term contract before the Ravens have to use the franchise tag. Or the Ravens could decide not to franchise Pitta. Or the Ravens and Pitta could agree to split the difference, which is what happened in 2008, when the Ravens argued that Terrell Suggs was a linebacker while Suggs argued that he was a defensive end. In that case the two sides eventually agreed — with the league office and the players’ union going along — to use the average of the two franchise tender amounts.
Often in cases like this, a compromise is the best option for both sides. But eventually it’s likely that a player and a team won’t be able to agree, and an arbitrator will have to decide. If that doesn’t happen with Graham and the Saints, it may happen with Pitta and the Ravens.