While the NFL has become a 12-month-per-year source of news, a few dead spots have emerged on the calendar. One of them will be filled this year with plenty of intrigue regarding Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
According to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, the hearing on Graham’s franchise-tag grievance has been set for June 17-18. At that time, an arbitrator will consider evidence and arguments both for and against the notion that Graham is a receiver, not a tight end, for purposes of the franchise tag.
A ruling should come fairly quickly, since the issue is straightforward. Under the CBA, a player gets tagged at the position where he participated in the most snaps in the prior year. For Graham, the ultimate question becomes whether his snaps taken in the slot count as snaps taken as a tight end or as a receiver.
The Saints and the league will argue that tight ends routinely move around to other spots, but that tight ends are the only players who line up on a consistent basis next to the left or right tackle. Graham and the NFLPA will contend that the relevant language of the labor deal should be applied as written, and that when Graham lines up in the slot, he’s a receiver not a tight end.
The ruling will be subject to appeal to a three-person panel. A compromise is possible at any time, and a final ruling would be preferred by July 15, the deadline for signing Graham to a multi-year deal.
With more than $5 million in 2014 franchise-tag salary hinging on the outcome, the total difference in dollars over a four-year or five-year deal easily could be more than $20 million.
Meanwhile, any other team (except the Bills, who traded their 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland) can sign Graham to an offer sheet. If the Saints don’t match, they’ll get a first-round pick in 2015 and 2016 from Graham’s new team.