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Graham, Saints finally square off over franchise tag

Graham Getty Images

It almost happened between the Packers and Jermichael Finley.  It would have happened between the Titans and Jared Cook.

It’s finally happening between the Saints and Jimmy Graham.

Tight end or receiver for franchise-tag purposes has become the question at a grievance hearing that commenced on Tuesday, with nearly $5.3 million hanging in the balance in 2014 base salary.  That difference quickly becomes much greater on a long-term contract, if the starting point is $7.035 million this year (the tight end tag) or $12.3 million (the receiver tag).

The best move for both sides would be to find a way to close the gap before a ruling, like the Ravens did six years ago with Terrell Suggs.  Tagged as a linebacker, Suggs argued that he was a defensive end.  A compromise was reached.

This time around, the gulf between the two tags is much greater, which leads to a greater possibility for hard feelings if team and player continue to dig in on what necessarily is, without an agreement, an all-or-nothing gamble.

The Saints possibly are banking on Graham looking for a way out, since it doesn’t seem to be in his DNA to cause trouble.  Eligible for a new deal since after the 2011 season (the old CBA allowed renegotiations following two years in the league), Graham said nothing as tight ends like oft-injured Rob Gronkowski and oft-accused-of-murder Aaron Hernandez received enormous paydays without having to complete their rookie contracts.

Graham is now being painted by many as greedy, but that’s an incorrect characterization.  Owners became owners via the principles of capitalism, and Graham has the ability to capitalize on vague language in the CBA that the NFL didn’t try to tidy up when the current contract between management and labor was finalized.  Graham’s argument that he lined up more as a receiver than tight end finds fuel in the plain language of the controlling document, and he has every right to make the argument that, by not lining up tight to the end more time than he lined up as a receiver, he should be paid as a receiver for franchise-tag purposes.

Two years ago, quarterback Drew Brees made a far more esoteric argument in his own grievance against the Saints regarding whether he’d get a 44-percent raise or a 20-percent raise if the tag was used in 2013.  No one accused him of being greedy, even though he unexpectedly won the argument and secured the leverage to get a deal from the organization that averages $20 million annually.

Graham is behaving no differently.  Win or lose, it’s smart for him to push the issue.  It would have been smarter for the NFL and NFLPA to address this loophole in the most recent CBA.  It could be the smartest for the Saints and Graham to use the uncertainty of the pending outcome as the vehicle for working out an agreement that will keep Graham in New Orleans for years to come.

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40 Responses to “Graham, Saints finally square off over franchise tag”
  1. aceakking says: Jun 17, 2014 4:42 PM

    The Saints don’t need Graham. They just need Gregg Williams and the bounty program back.

  2. nou04 says: Jun 17, 2014 4:46 PM

    How about, he is listed as a TE. He was drafted as a TE, he should be pain like the best TE in the league?

  3. somethingsmellsrotten says: Jun 17, 2014 4:49 PM

    Once a tight end, always a tight end…this is just a ridiculous argument and nothing but a money grab from Graham.

  4. trollhammer20 says: Jun 17, 2014 4:55 PM

    Given the way he disappeared against the Seahawks, I’d say his position is more like “Magician”.

  5. xinellum says: Jun 17, 2014 4:56 PM

    All this is doing is having teams counting where tight ends line up and have them beside the tackle in punts, victory celebrations, guaranteed runs, extra points, when they are up or done by 30 points and the second string is in and field goals. Had Graham been stuck in crap formations beside the tackle just to beat the CBA maybe he would be a lot happier knowing he played 51% of snaps in a true tight end position. Maybe he is right but no other tight end will ever get that chance to fight it again. Make them play beside the tackle whether they want to or not. Make them so miserable beside the tackle they shut up. As Brees said, there is life after Graham.

  6. realdealsteel says: Jun 17, 2014 4:59 PM

    The only thing Graham has done is make his team go out and get more WR’s and in turn cut down on his catches this coming season.

  7. jfrogwi says: Jun 17, 2014 5:03 PM

    No one accused Brees of being greedy? I disagree.

  8. Aaron Rodgers Has Tiny Hands says: Jun 17, 2014 5:11 PM

    The starting point for a long-term contract is not whatever you get on the one-year franchise tag.

  9. tylerhutchison2005 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:14 PM

    The man scored 16 touchdowns, pay him!

  10. thestrategyexpert says: Jun 17, 2014 5:15 PM

    Too bad the shield is more important than the smarts.

  11. rpiotr01 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:24 PM

    By the law of common sense, Graham is a TE and should be paid the tag number for a TE.

    By the letter of the law that both the league and players agreed to, Graham is a wide receiver.

    If that sounds ridiculous that’s because it is, but blame the lawyers for not closing that loophole.

  12. ufanforreal says: Jun 17, 2014 5:25 PM

    Just give Graham some of those prescription drugs the Saints are so famous for having around, that should mellow things out.

  13. flexx91 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:26 PM

    “Judgment day” for Brees in terms of his contract will come next offseason. His cap hit will be $26 million for the 2015 season. Make fun all you want but everyone will eventually be affected by this outcome as this will set a bad precedent for cap struggling teams who have playing playing “hybrid” roles.

  14. Wiggly72 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:29 PM

    Dree Brees demands an explanation!

  15. qdog112 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:30 PM

    The argument for WR pay is very clear based on the 67% times he lined up there.

    The argument for TE is based on what he played in college, his draft position of TE, his position in the game program/depth chart, fantasy, Madden position and his pro bowl selection position. Basically, “his mamma calls him a TE, he’s a TE”.

    That’s it. You’re gonna find out that the label means ZERO. He will be defined by his on the field duties.

  16. mdd913 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:35 PM

    Graham is not being greedy just on the basis of this argument. He did, however, turn down a contract that would have made him the highest-paid tight end in football.

    If Graham wants to be paid like a wide receiver, he should be able to produce like one. He does not. He depends on being shuttled around the formation to take advantage of matchups. He has a limited route tree. He has a low catch percentage. These are not the qualities of an elite wide receiver, therefore the Saints should not have to pay him like one.

    Having said that, this is all agents and the union fighting the league and has probably not so much to do with Jimmy Graham himself.

  17. mburkett1980 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:37 PM

    The “Y” receiver a.k.a. “tight end” being flexed into the slot has always been a part of the tight end position’s duties. Some teams sub in shiftier guys to come in to play Y from the slot position in certain situations but these days, most TE’s can do it themselves.

    Graham is not an X or Z receiver like Megatron or A.J. Green, he is a Y receiver and those guys don’t make the big bucks.

    Graham’s pay should be in line with higher end slot receivers.

  18. dawgs105 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:42 PM

    Aaron Hernandez proved you can make the switch. He was a Tight End, now in jail he’s a Wide Receiver.

  19. flexx91 says: Jun 17, 2014 5:44 PM

    True, so expect all of the other agents of hybrid TE’s, rush OLB’s (who want to be paid like DE’s), and pass-catching RB’s to jump on this bandwagon.

  20. sambaughslingers says: Jun 17, 2014 5:50 PM

    The on field duties are what should count. If the Saints are able to call him a tight end even though he plays the majority of snaps at tight end whats to stop other teams from doing the same thing. Maybe teams will begin starting their cornerbacks at safety for 2-3 plays a game, then switch them back over to corner but always label them safety. I’ll take my defensive end and start him at defensive tackle. This should be common sense. Look at how the Saints use him.

    To be honest I don’t see why TE and WR are separate categories and yet all of the OL are one category or all LBs are one categories. There’s a bigger difference between Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith than there is between Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston

  21. 2manyconcussions says: Jun 17, 2014 6:30 PM

    Thank God for lawyers.

  22. infinitig says: Jun 17, 2014 6:42 PM

    This will help the Linebackers that cover him if he is deemed a Wide Receiver. They will argue they should be paid Cornerback pay since they are guarding a Wide Receiver.

  23. vonsmoky71165 says: Jun 17, 2014 6:49 PM

    How about this for compromise? As per the numbers he lines up outside 66% of the time and inside as a TE 33 % of the time. Easy math for everyone.

    Take 66% of avg. of top 5 WR’s pay($68,398,000/5 = $13,679,600 x 66% =$9,028,536) and 33% of avg.of top 5 TE’s pay ($38,020,000 /5 =$7,604,000 x 33% = 2,509,320) and add them together.

    Total = $ 11,537,856/yr. This creates a win/win for both sides. Top Paid TE AND 5th Highest paid WR

    Salary numbers are compliments of OverTheCap.com

  24. brownsmakemecrazy says: Jun 17, 2014 6:56 PM

    Ok new rule. If you want to classify him AND PAY HIM as a TE then you shouldn’t be allowed to split him out in the slot. The NFL and teams want their cake and to eat it to. If the Saints want to line him up as a Wide Receiver then they have to pay him like one.

  25. chad504boy says: Jun 17, 2014 7:01 PM

    I think the biggest difference this argument will decide is the amount of guaranteed money Jimmy gets. As a TE, he’s in very low 20’s, as a WR, he’s mid to upper 20’s million guaranteed on deal w maybe slightly more annual numbers. Annual he’s getting minimum 10 a yr, max 11.25 a year.

  26. tonyc920 says: Jun 17, 2014 7:18 PM

    What next ??? Are we going to see a running back that catches 30 – 40 passes out of the backfield asking for WR money ?? There’s a huge discrepancy between those 2 positions.
    I like Jimmy, damn good player and he deserves a big contract based on his production, BUT, these situations create precedence and then where does it end ? It doesn’t. The NFL and NFLPA needs to clear this up through negotiations and that’s going to be a rough road to hoe. Players should be paid in accordance to the stated position they play, especially in tagged situations.

  27. sanjose61 says: Jun 17, 2014 7:55 PM

    Brees needs to shut his mouth.

    On January 29th Brees said “Graham is a tight end.”

    http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/01/29/brees-says-graham-is-a-tight-end-not-a-receiver/

    One week ago he said that the Saints offense would be fine without Graham

    http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/06/11/drew-brees-saints-offense-will-be-fine-with-or-without-jimmy-graham/

    With “friends” like that, who needs enemies.

  28. mrtullymars says: Jun 17, 2014 7:56 PM

    When should we expect the arbitrator to rule on this? I ask because the deadline to sign a multi-year contract is July 15, which is less than a month away. That deadline already pushes both parties to get something done by then.

    If the arbitrator sets his ruling date sooner than July 15, that pushes negotiations. If he delays it until after July 15, then today’s hearing means nothing.

  29. jackers252 says: Jun 17, 2014 7:57 PM

    You can’t have capitalism and a salary cap. Both are just trying to make things work.

  30. cursedvikings1998 says: Jun 17, 2014 8:06 PM

    Jimmy Soft please go away! The Saints don’t need you!

  31. slim1337 says: Jun 17, 2014 8:32 PM

    He doesn’t block so…. WR it is.

  32. yetimonster says: Jun 17, 2014 8:37 PM

    Over rated.

  33. jayblack073 says: Jun 17, 2014 8:39 PM

    I think the saints should cut ties with this softy. Their offense would really be fine without him (it was fine before he got there) And as someone above posted if he wants to be paid like a receiver it should be as a slot guy, because that’s where he lines up, not outside. What was Welker’s contract worth again?

  34. Jason Fore says: Jun 17, 2014 9:30 PM

    Most of the argument I see here revolves around whether Graham is or is not a TE. Nobody, Graham included, is contending that he is not a TE. TE, as defined by the roster designation, is a position. TE, as defined by the CBA, is a archetypal role. The CBA definition is not equivalent to the roster definition, nor was it intended to be. Otherwise, no wording relating payment to role would have been included in the CBA. The CBA seeks to define an archetypal role (WR, TE, etc…) and then determine which of those roles the franchised player most often filled, regardless of roster designation. The whole point of this isn’t to decide whether he is a TE or not. Of course he is a TE. Everybody agrees on that. The point is to decide which of the CBA roles he most closely fits. My opinion is he most closely resembles a TE.

  35. higheriqthanyou says: Jun 17, 2014 9:32 PM

    Jimmy who?

  36. SBoy says: Jun 17, 2014 10:10 PM

    I think the franchise tag needs to go. End of problem. A player is either under a rookie contract, a restricted or unrestricted free agent. The tag is BS, owners don’t need it… I think they’re doing okay financially.

  37. zimmel639 says: Jun 17, 2014 11:53 PM

    I didn’t see him refusing the Pro Bowl selections as a TE….and the likely contract escalators they triggered. Let’s see…..Jimmy or Calvin or Brandon? If he wants to play outside, let him, and he can be judged on equal grounds. He can’t have it both ways.

  38. charger383 says: Jun 18, 2014 12:59 AM

    Tight ends should make more than wide wide receivers because they block sometimes

  39. greenlantern75 says: Jun 18, 2014 9:34 AM

    How about this?

    Graham has easily outplayed his initial contract by a ton. Never complained or held out like other players (*cough* Vernon Davis *cough*).

    He gets to the end of his contract and can’t reach an agreement with his employer about compensation. Instead of being able to leave the employer and see what he can get on the open market, he has to stay with his current employer and take whatever the rules say he has to make.

    Now you say…thems the breaks and that what was negotiated between NFLPA and NFL. And to that, I say ‘Exactly’. And Graham is saying that as well, by not holding out (at this point).

    All Graham is saying (doing) is if I have to play within these bologna CBA rules that limit my ability to get paid what the market will bear and be forced to play on a 1 year deal, then *that same language* states that I should be paid like a WR. Again, he is not even holding out and complaining…He is using the avenues afforded to him through the CBA to have a 3rd party rule on whether he is right or not. And if all of you talking about what position he was drafted at , blah, blah, blah are correct, he will lose his argument and get paid as a top TE. If he is right that playing him essentially as a WR means he should be paid like a WR, then you can all hopefully shut up and let it go…

    And for those making some kind of moral / ethical argument about Graham being greedy…When a guy honors his freaking contract and gets to the end, he should be able to get paid whatever *any* team thinks he is worth. While I appreciate the franchise / transition tags as a fan in keeping my favorite players on my team, at least I can be honest about the fact that it is a total screwjob by the owners to the players (most of the current CBA is basically that way).

  40. samhackney says: Jun 20, 2014 10:22 PM

    If a TE is a “blocking TE” and blocks more than 62% of the time, should he get paid as an offensive guard, Fullback or Tackle. I’m so confused!

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