As Jimmy Graham awaits an arbitrator’s ruling about whether he’s a tight end or a wide receiver, a young player who is expected to play a Graham like role says the answer is really both. Or neither.
Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron, who is expected to do many of the same things in Detroit’s offense that Graham does in New Orleans, told Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News that he thinks it’s time for the NFL to create a new position to encompass hybrid players who don’t really fit the traditional mold of a wide receiver or a tight end.
Ebron’s idea makes sense: As football strategies change, football terminology changes, and right now we don’t have a good term for the players like Graham who are listed at tight end but run pass routes on most plays and rarely line up next to the offensive tackle. Ebron noted that in many offenses, “joker” is the term used for hybrid players.
Of course, Ebron may want to wait until he sees if Graham wins his grievance before he goes making that proposal. If an arbitrator declares Graham a wide receiver, the Saints will have to pay him about $5 million more on the 2014 franchise tag than they’d have to pay him if he’s a tight end. And if Ebron ever finds himself in the same situation, he and his agent will surely argue that he’s a wide receiver. Furthermore, creating a new hybrid position would have to be negotiated between the owners and the players’ union, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement recognizes the distinct positions of tight end and wide receiver and declares that a player will be classified at the position at which he lined up most in the previous season.
So even if Ebron’s way of thinking makes sense, it probably won’t gain any traction any time soon. Graham is about to be declared either a tight end or a wide receiver, and that determination will have ramifications around the league.