With Jimmy Graham’s grievance approaching, the NFL and/or the Saints apparently have been trying to make their case for Graham to be considered a tight end, not a receiver, for franchise-tag purposes by leaking quotes and other information to the media.
Recently, an unnamed management-side source ripped Graham’s position in anonymous quotes to Mike Triplett, who covers the team for ESPN.com. The anonymous management-side source (let’s all remember this specific example the next time anyone with the league office complains about the use of unnamed sources) called Graham’s position a “naked cash grab.” (Somewhere, someone has gotten the idea for HBO’s first game show.)
Now, someone apparently has sold Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the notion that snaps taken by Graham in the slot shouldn’t count as participation as a receiver if Graham isn’t being covered by a cornerback.
In an article that reads a lot more like a closing argument for the Saints’ effort to save $5.2 million in 2014 salary (and a lot more over the long-term deal for which the 2014 salary would be the starting point), Holder harps on various factors that are irrelevant to the question that a system arbitrator will resolve — whether Graham participated in more snaps as a receiver than as a tight end in 2013.
Whether a safety or a cornerback or a linebacker or a defensive end or a nose tackle covers Graham doesn’t matter. What matters is whether he participated in more plays as a receiver or as a tight end. What that precisely means isn’t known, thanks to the ambiguity of the labor deal on that point.
Indeed, the issue remains far less clear than Triplett’s or Holder’s sources are making it out to be. If it were that simple, the Packers would have held firm with Jermichael Finley in 2012, and the Titans wouldn’t have decided to not even risk the fight with Jared Cook in 2013, applying no tag to him at all.
With the Graham grievance moving to formal arbitration, the NFL and the Saints need to make strong, forceful arguments to support their view that Graham is a tight end. After all, if Graham wins Commissioner Roger Goodell and/or Saints owner Tom Benson may have some pointed questions for whoever it was that failed to account for the evolution of the tight end position when signing off on the formula for determining a franchise player’s appropriate tender — especially in light of the pre-2011 fight between the Ravens and Terrell Suggs over whether he’s a linebacker or a defensive end.
Of course, the effort to sell aggressively the case against Graham’s “naked cash grab” to the media also has plenty to do with P.R. Articles like Triplett’s and Holder’s paint Graham as unrealistic and greedy, putting pressure on him to agree to terms that reflect tight end compensation, not receiver pay. It’s hard not to wonder whether Graham, who has taken the high road throughout this process, eventually will realize what’s going on and push back.