With arbitrator Stephen Burbank concluding that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is a tight end for franchise-tag purposes, the 14-page, single-spaced ruling gives other teams with pass-catching tight ends a clear blueprint for avoiding a similar problem.
If, of course, Burbank’s ruling survives on appeal.
The most obvious message comes from Burbank’s decision to draw an imaginary line four yards from the tackle box. If the tight end lines up inside that line, he’s still a tight end. If he lines up beyond it, he’s a receiver.
Beyond that, teams need to ensure that they keep clean records regarding the scouting and drafting and grooming of tight ends as tight ends, installing a firewall that keeps the tight end in the tight end room and away from the receivers. The safest approach would be to never intermingle the two groups, under any circumstances.
For the tight end who may want to be regarded as a receiver, Burbank’s ruling also provides important guidance. First, the tight end who hopes to be regarded as a receiver should call himself at all times something other than tight end. While calling himself a receiver would be a little obvious, it’s better than plastering “tight end” on social media and elsewhere. Second, the tight end may want to consider subtly and consistently taking a few steps to the left or the right, away from the tackle.
Overall, the push-and-pull coming from the real-time, real-world tight-end-versus-receiver debate introduces an unhealthy dynamic to the relationship between player and team. And that’s why it would make sense for the NFL and the NFLPA to follow the advice of Lions tight end* Eric Ebron and craft a new hybrid category for purposes of the franchise tag.