After reporting last week that Saints coach Sean Payton testified in the Jimmy Graham grievance hearing, we caught wind of at least one member of the media having one or more players (it’s unclear whether they play for the Saints) ready to provide strong to quite strong on-the-record criticism of Payton for his role in the process.
Regardless of whether Payton gets called out for serving as a witness in determining how Graham is used (really, it would have been odd not to hear from Graham’s head coach on the issue), Payton will be facing at a minimum some awkwardness when it’s time to interact again with the team. Some will view his testimony as taking $5.3 million out of Graham’s pockets — even if that’s not what Payton wanted to do. He’ll need to make sure the players understand why he did what he did, without painting Graham as greedy or inappropriate.
Indeed, despite characterizations of the effort as a “naked cash grab,” Graham had every right to make his argument. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank determined the operative language of the labor deal to be ambiguous, which means that the language fairly can be interpreted in different ways. Which means that Graham’s way could have been (and still could be, on appeal) the right way.
Graham lost in part because Payton’s testimony helped persuade Burbank to pull out a yardstick and draw a line in the slot. The coach is quoted multiple times in the 14-page ruling, explaining for example that “[w]hen our receivers are lined up widest in formations, they are never covered by safeties or linebackers ever,” and that “[n]ever ever ever ever ever does a linebacker match up with a wide receiver ever.”
The extra “evers” could create the impression that Payton was extra forceful in his testimony, which would make it a little harder for him to unruffle feathers in the locker room. Regardless, he’s more than smart enough to know that he’ll have some fences to mend, and he’s more than smart enough to figure out how to do it.