Here’s a shock. The NFL feels very strongly about its position in the Jimmy Graham grievance.
When it comes to legal matters, the league rarely lacks in confidence. And for good reason; the league rarely loses.
That said, the NFL easily could lose the Graham case. But the unnamed league source that spoke to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com doesn’t sound concerned about defeat in a fight that has more than $5 million hanging in the balance.
“The union’s position is a naked cash grab,” the unnamed league source told Triplett. “It ignores Mr. Graham’s use as a traditional tight end on roughly 60 percent of the snaps where he lined up within four yards of the tackle. It also ignores the historical use of the tight end position.
“Since the days of Mike Ditka, coaches have split the tight end wide to gain information about the defensive set and gain a matchup advantage. According to the union’s position, last year’s All-Pro tight end was not a tight end and Mike Ditka was a wide receiver.”
The union’s position flows from the letter of the labor deal negotiated and signed by the two parties. The language is clear. A franchise player will be designated based on the position at which he participated in the most plays during the prior league year.
While we’ve yet (and don’t plan) to study game film from the 1960s to see how many times Mike Ditka lined up tight to the end of the line (ergo, “tight end”) or in the slot or split wide, the issue isn’t nearly as clear as the league believes. If the system arbitrator, subject to appeal to a three-person panel, finds after next week’s hearing that the snaps taken by Graham in the slot constitute plays in which he participated as a receiver, Graham wins. If the system arbitrator, subject to appeal, finds that the tight end position includes snaps in the slot, Graham loses.
It’s hardly as cut-and-dried as Triplett’s unnamed source suggests. And to the extent it’s a “naked cash grab,” so be it. The NFL routinely makes “naked cash grabs,” like when it dictates terms for the potential Super Bowl host cities. Moreover, the folks who own NFL teams didn’t get to that point without making a few naked and/or fully-clothed and/or scantily-clad cash grabs.
At best, the NFL allowed an ambiguity to creep into the labor deal on this point. At worst, the NFL created the same kind of loophole that results in centers and guards being paid franchise-player wages at the same level of the league’s elite left tackles because the league inexplicably agreed to lump offensive lineman into one category.
The league may still win this. But the chances of losing are far greater than Triplett’s source will concede.
If the league’s position were so clear, the Packers would have pushed the issue two years ago with Jermichael Finley. Likewise, the Titans wouldn’t have blinked in 2013 with Jared Cook. In both cases, the NFL’s Management Council wouldn’t and couldn’t give the kind of guarantee that Triplett’s source is selling.
Which means that Triplett’s source may not really be quite so confident, and that the quotes are instead aimed at persuading the public to view Graham as greedy.