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Saints not thrilled with Burbank’s four-yard split conclusion

Graham Getty Images

Yes, the Saints like the decision from arbitrator Stephen Burbank that tight end Jimmy Graham is a tight end for franchise-tag purposes.  But the Saints aren’t thrilled with the way Burbank reached his conclusion.

Per a source with knowledge of the team’s position, the Saints disagree with the notion that the question of tight end vs. receiver boils down to whether the player lines up most of the time within four yards of an offensive tackle.  As the Saints see it, a tight end is a tight end no matter where he lines up or how often he lines up there.

The Saints see three key factors for determining tight end status: (1) the player’s size; (2) the player’s position group for practice and meeting purposes; and (3) the manner in which the opponent defends him in man coverage.

The shifting of tight ends to the slot between the tackle and receiver and/or wide of the widest receiver has nothing to do with making the tight end into a wide receiver.  Moving the tight end has one primary goal:  To aid the offense’s assessment before the snap as to whether the defense has lined up in man or zone.

Because most teams defend tight ends when in man coverage with a linebacker or a safety, the use of a linebacker or a safety to cover a tight end when he’s in the slot or split wide means that the defense is showing man-to-man coverage before the snap.  If the tight end lines up in the slot or wide and a cornerback lines up on him, the defense is conveying a zone look.

While exceptions exists (for example, the Patriots used cornerback Aqib Talib to cover Graham and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez in 2013), receivers are never covered by a linebacker.  So if the Saints come out of the huddle and Graham splits wide on one side and he’s covered by a linebacker or a safety and not the corner that would be assigned to that side of the field in zone, the coverage is man-to-man.

In other words, the Saints believe a tight end is still a tight end even when he’s not lined up tight to the end of the line because of the way he’s defended.  Which means that, in theory, Graham could split wide on every snap and remain a tight end.

The question could become a bit more complicated if Graham lines up as a wide receiver so often that teams began to defend him like a receiver.  For now, though, the various looks-like-a-duck factors conclusively point to Graham being a tight end.

It’s possible, if not likely, that Burbank agreed with the concept, but that he felt compelled (as judges and arbitrators often do) to come up with a formula or to otherwise justify the decision quantitatively.  Per the source, the four-yard-split concept appeared in the NFL’s pre-hearing brief, and it didn’t get much play during the two-day hearing.  However, since the parties stipulated (that’s a fancy lawyer term for “agreed”) to the various percentages of times that Graham lined up tight to the tackle and within four yards of the tackle and beyond four yards of the tackle, it was easy for Burbank to add up the snaps and fashion a standard.

Which makes the decision seem a lot more arbitrary, and which could make it a little more vulnerable to reversal, if/when Graham appeals the decision.

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62 Responses to “Saints not thrilled with Burbank’s four-yard split conclusion”
  1. kwjsb says: Jul 6, 2014 2:36 PM

    This is what happens when a lawyer makes a decision when he doesn’t understand the intricacies of the game

  2. thestrategyexpert says: Jul 6, 2014 2:37 PM

    Just work it out in advance of the next CBA agreement and then players of the future present will be taken care of by the previous generation that payved the way, and say sorry to them and thanks for understanding despite not being happy about your eventual acceptance. Appeal if you wish, but just note the play clock has started.

  3. joeflaccoallday says: Jul 6, 2014 2:39 PM

    Pay the damn man. He deserves more than Mike Wallace.

  4. johnnycash19 says: Jul 6, 2014 2:40 PM

    Why not just look at the his coverage percentage?

    WR’s are covered by LB’s 0% of the time, how often was Graham covered by a LB?

  5. paoconno says: Jul 6, 2014 2:40 PM

    Since the Saints used Graham’s Twitter mention of himself as a “tight end” against him in court, if I’m Jimmy, I update my Twitter bio to: “Jimmy Graham: Future Ex-Saint.” Maybe that will get the team’s attention and bring them back to the table for discussions on a long term deal.

  6. dsonashville28 says: Jul 6, 2014 2:44 PM

    The Saints should be happy that they won the case, and the NFL should be happy that their salary structure didn’t suffer any damage.

  7. ottawabrave91 says: Jul 6, 2014 2:47 PM

    So you’re saying the arbitrator was arbitrary?

  8. valentino8100 says: Jul 6, 2014 2:48 PM

    Can’t wait until this gets carried out to the point where a TE has to report as an “eligible blocker”.

  9. guitarfreak21 says: Jul 6, 2014 2:50 PM

    If a guy catches the ball he is a receiver by DEFINITION, he’s not a WR, but maybe Offensive Weapon is a better designation; it’s been used before and better reflects the flexibility a multi disciplinary player offers. Over the next offseason OW should be defined and implemented in the CBA – why this was never addressed is anyone’s guess.

  10. qdog112 says: Jul 6, 2014 2:51 PM

    Since I was so wrong about the initial ruling, might as well chime in again. I predict the arbitrator’s 4 yard basis for his ruling, will be tossed aside as a poor criteria for making a decision.

    It makes no sense and will not stand. Even if Graham fails on appeal, there is a court system waiting to give it’s input. The final input, if he so chooses.

    I still think, the only thing that matters is, the duties the employee actually performs on the job. If it is the same as others in a higher paying group, he should be paid as the higher paid group.

    Any company organizational chart will show that.

  11. thecoachsoffice says: Jul 6, 2014 2:52 PM

    The main factor is in how he affects a defense. That is difficult for an arbitrator to quantify, which he must do. Therefore, the 4 yard demarcation. With so much nickel and dime coverages, it is getting more difficult to determine who a corner or safety is. Graham is a TE because he usually affects an opponent’s defense as a TE. He is the best TE in the NFL, but would not be a top 10 WR.

  12. purplegreenandgold says: Jul 6, 2014 2:53 PM

    This story is getting FAR more yardage than Jimmy gained last year…

  13. thetooloftools says: Jul 6, 2014 2:57 PM

    This is just stupid. Heck.. by what the Saints are saying you could line him up at QB every week and call him a tight end.
    How do… I wonder… what the hell are they thinking?
    Beyond stupid.

  14. micknangold says: Jul 6, 2014 3:01 PM

    “This is what happens when a lawyer makes a decision when he doesn’t understand the intricacies of the game”

    So how should it be determined?

  15. cards32 says: Jul 6, 2014 3:04 PM

    This is just so ridiculous. It is the franchise tag nobody likes it what makes Graham different. He will be paid like crazy if he hits the open market, and the saints will have to pay as much if not more now to keep him long term. All jimmy graham is doing by trying to get as much $ as possible in this franchise tag year is trying to hurt every other tight end. The franchise tag for a position is the average of the top 5 players in that position, if Graham gets classified as a WR the tight end franchise tag doesn’t raise when he gets his big payday.

  16. udontknowjaq says: Jul 6, 2014 3:05 PM

    Distraction!!

  17. corkspop says: Jul 6, 2014 3:09 PM

    Go back to the videos of every game in which Graham ever played. See how many times the broadcasters refer to him as “wide receiver Jimmy Graham”.

  18. haraldsigurdson says: Jul 6, 2014 3:30 PM

    The Saints’ criteria are purely ad hoc for the purpose of avoiding the higher franchise number for Graham. CLEARLY the difference between a “tight” end and a “split” end are where they predominantly line up when they play. I love the one where they say it should be with which position group the player practices and meets. So if Howie Long practices and meets with the kickers, that makes him a kicker, even though he lines up at the defensive line and never kicks the ball.

  19. tjacks7 says: Jul 6, 2014 3:37 PM

    Dang, the Saints are cheap. He’s your biggest receiving threat. Get a fair deal done. I’m sure players are eager to go get hosed by the Saints management.

  20. s0merand0mguy says: Jul 6, 2014 3:43 PM

    I hope Jimmy ditches the Saints for all this stupid media filled chaos. they obviously don’t think highly of their best players. Sad .. Hope Jimmy gets with a better organization

  21. thefiesty1 says: Jul 6, 2014 3:44 PM

    The Saints are posturing and will eventually pay him rather than lose him to another team.

  22. monroesaintsfan says: Jul 6, 2014 4:00 PM

    “This is just stupid. Heck.. by what the Saints are saying you could line him up at QB every week and call him a tight end.
    How do… I wonder… what the hell are they thinking?
    Beyond stupid.”

    “So if Howie Long practices and meets with the kickers, that makes him a kicker, even though he lines up at the defensive line and never kicks the ball.”

    Two of the dumbest quotes ever. According to these two “fans”…….training camp, OTA’s and in-season practices are all a waste of time and just subterfuge.

  23. wwttww says: Jul 6, 2014 4:01 PM

    And after all this he’ll hit the IR by week 5

  24. jayblack073 says: Jul 6, 2014 4:02 PM

    The best argument for this case is how often do wide receivers line up at the tight end position? Answer: almost never.

  25. thrstr says: Jul 6, 2014 4:10 PM

    nice knowing ya, Jimmy. It was a good run.

  26. igornathanhiggers says: Jul 6, 2014 4:13 PM

    Of course the Saints are pissed!

    Now they’ll have to keep tabs on how many times Jimmy lines up more than 4 yards from the tackle. It’ll completely affect their playcalling.

    And if the play calls for Jimmy to line up 3 yards away, what’s to stop Jimmy from purposefully…or accidentally…taking an extra step to ensure he’s 4+ yds from the tackle.

    Of course this goes away if the Saints just pay Jimmy what he’s worth!

  27. datageek94 says: Jul 6, 2014 4:18 PM

    To the credit of the arbitrator, he’s tried to quantify and define something that has not been quantified and defined by the CBA. Shame on the attorneys who wrote the CBA for not defining the position of tight end in such language to include the receiving part of their game.

    Take the arbitrariness of the QB position. If a player lines up behind center, he’s a quarterback. And that’s even if he’s not an effective passer and is basically playing as a running back who occasionally throws the ball.

  28. fishyinalittledishy says: Jul 6, 2014 4:21 PM

    What a bunch of misers the Saints are. Graham’s a tight end he knows it all he want is some extra lolly. He is a top player and I think the best TE’s should get paid more than good wideouts anyway as they are expected to do more.

  29. jeanoroid says: Jul 6, 2014 4:23 PM

    Lines up on line, catches ball.
    He’s a reciever.

  30. austindudero says: Jul 6, 2014 4:34 PM

    Drew Brees (speaking of Jimmy Graham’s contract situation): “he knows that all of his teammates are behind him and hoping that he’s able to get what he deserves.”

    Yeah, Drew, coach & team are right behind Jimmy … right up until they voluntarily testify against him!

    Zzzzzzinng.

  31. qdog112 says: Jul 6, 2014 4:43 PM

    It may be hard to do, but remove this from the football field and view it strictly as a labor situation.

    This is a job situation: Job title vs. Job function. When you remove football from the equation, you’re dealing with what an employer can pay based on job title vs. what he should pay based on job function.

    Ex. You hire a truck loader. Over time, his function shifts. He’s driving more than loading. If a truck driver makes more than a truck loader, how do you pay a guy who drives 67% and loads 33% of the time?

    Meanwhile, the guys actually hired as drivers make more for doing the same job. Do you reclassify and pay him as a driver?

  32. FinFan68 says: Jul 6, 2014 4:58 PM

    The Saints’ reasoning is just as wrong as the arbiter’s. The bottom line is simple: At no point did Graham or any other receiving TE perform duties or line up where doing so is against the rules or usage of the position. He was a TE when standing next to the tackle, when lined up in the slot or when lined up outside. The counting of plays is irrelevant in this case. I think it is more appropriately applied to a guy that changes his position for whatever reason. (Devin Hester was listed as a CB when he was drafted and the Bears made him a WR)

  33. zeke2517 says: Jul 6, 2014 4:59 PM

    I’ve gotta say, the Saints’ definition seems conveniently self-serving.

    A player’s size and where he goes to meetings are more important than what he does during the game? Are you kidding?

  34. edavidberg says: Jul 6, 2014 5:01 PM

    As people have been saying, the problem is that they didn’t define what a tight end is. And I’m not sure there is a strict definition for one. in the case of Vernon Davis, it is easy as he lines up next to the tackle more than 50% of the time. But Graham is an unconventional tight end and as such that doesn’t happen with him.

    To me the slot position is that of a receiver. But I can see the arguments otherwise.

  35. spankymcwanky says: Jul 6, 2014 5:27 PM

    “Maybe that will get the team’s attention and bring them back to the table for discussions on a long term deal.”

    What do you mean “bring them back to the table for discussion”? Why do you think they left? Their offer to become the highest paid TE ever is still on the table. Jimmy is the one who turned it down.

  36. spankymcwanky says: Jul 6, 2014 5:27 PM

    “Dang, the Saints are cheap. He’s your biggest receiving threat. Get a fair deal done. I’m sure players are eager to go get hosed by the Saints management.”

    So “cheap” to you is offering a guy a contract that pays him the most out of all pass catchers on the team, including Colston, not to mention the biggest contract ever at his position? Really?

  37. spankymcwanky says: Jul 6, 2014 5:28 PM

    “I hope Jimmy ditches the Saints for all this stupid media filled chaos. they obviously don’t think highly of their best players. Sad .. Hope Jimmy gets with a better organization”

    Yep, they don’t like him so much that they offered him a contract that makes him the highest paid pass catcher on the team and in the league. That’s so disrespectful of them! (sarcasm)

  38. pfu2 says: Jul 6, 2014 5:28 PM

    Pay him accordingly to his production & importance to the team, not his position & it will iron itself out.

  39. spankymcwanky says: Jul 6, 2014 5:28 PM

    “Pay the damn man. He deserves more than Mike Wallace.”

    No one should disagree with your statement, but Mike Wallace hasn’t earned his contract. I think what the Saints offered is fine, and more than what Wallace deserves to be making. So, don’t make it sound like Graham is getting screwed. Because the Dolphins are the ones getting screwed with their contract with Wallace.

  40. purpleppleeaters says: Jul 6, 2014 5:32 PM

    As a fan, I don’t give a rip. This is an unnecessary distraction, courtesy of the CBA.
    Line up and play football. Keep your back-office politics and pay grade nonsense out of the media.

  41. dldavidlong says: Jul 6, 2014 5:34 PM

    Jimmy should play out his tag and play for the highest bidder next year. that will definetly raise the franchise tag for tight ends for years to come.

  42. tecontroversy says: Jul 6, 2014 5:36 PM

    First – this site ridiculed (OK – less than that) an article that said the same thing – next – a TE is a TE no matter WHERE you put him in a game, that is why you drafted him at that position…This entire deal is beyond me – people make incalculable amounts more than normal folks and THIS is an issue? How about being 1 (normal) paycheck away from NOTHING?!!? Try that on for size!

  43. tedmurph says: Jul 6, 2014 5:41 PM

    All this discussion is very nice, but the market is what sets the tag number. Not the NFL. It’s the average of the top 5 salaries at a position. If the game keeps evolving towards the TE, and guys like Gronk, Davis and Graham get paid more and more as their value dictates, the number will go higher and may eventually approach WR numbers.

  44. surfinbird1 says: Jul 6, 2014 6:03 PM

    Talib says if he’s a wide receiver he ain’t a very good one.

  45. thethunderofgunns says: Jul 6, 2014 6:09 PM

    Stephen Burbank be lovin’ him some Atlanta Falcons, in fact Tony Gonzalez got paid like a QB!!!! Hell, he even named his SON Katrina!!!!! :)

  46. deafcone says: Jul 6, 2014 6:14 PM

    Saints should have just said take a TE tag or you’re getting cut. problem solved.

  47. breakingb says: Jul 6, 2014 6:19 PM

    If Saints have the cap space don’t you think they’d pay him?

  48. bishoplanky says: Jul 6, 2014 7:28 PM

    This is so easy, it’s sad……take any TE in the NFL, and line them up at WR 100% of the time, and see what happens. What, are we now going to say the TE, DE, or whatever that checks in for a goalline play, is now something else. What would that make the Fridge? A FB, a RB worth AP numbers? I get trying to make the money, but be real……

    Btw, if I worked at Starbucks, and served coffee, I would be a barista not a dude that serves you coffee. Just to be clear. (sarcasm implied).

  49. sonyguts says: Jul 6, 2014 8:19 PM

    The very nature of the TE position is they are a hybrid. Sometimes they line up on the end and block, sometimes they split wide. It’s a joker position. How many times did Calvin, AJ Greeen and Wes Welker line up on the LOS and block?

  50. jchuber says: Jul 6, 2014 8:39 PM

    some of you folks ain’t real smart!!!!

    You are hired by a company to do a specific job. Job description and salary requirements are agrred to and you are hired.
    Next, the company finds out that you have unique capabilities, and gives you more responsibilities. You comply with these for years until your next contract negoiation.
    At the next negoiations, your company offers you a puny raise, because you were originally hired to do an agreed upon job,and most other candidates are fullfilling this requirement. Your additionally skill set, is only worth a very small amount of what full timers receive for doing the same job.(2.5 versus 14) and your double responsibilities are obviously worth nothing.

    “Cheap Ain’ts.” Win a battle and loose the war.

  51. councilofargos says: Jul 6, 2014 8:43 PM

    I am against the current franchise tag system. I feel it needs a couple of new tags. One for slot receiver, there is a huge difference between what the Edelman, Welker and Cruz bring to an offense, compared to a Johnson, Bryant, Jones, Green. that way tight ends that mainly play the slot can get paid like what they are slot receivers.
    I am also against O Line men being generically lumped together, 3 different skill sets for tackles, guards and centers. Snapping the ball right isnt as easy as it looks as we saw in the super bowl, tackles pick up the edge rushers, and guards cover a lot of ground on sweeps.
    On the D side of the ball, a Nose tackle like Wilfork will never be a stats junkie, might be able to get him groupiong with Defensive tackles. But an edge rusher is an edge rusher to me whether it be defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker ina 3-4.
    I just feel the tags need to be redone.
    At least for slot receiver it didnt exist in the 80’s because wide receivers like Welker and cruz would just get killed for going over the middle, the rule is full contact within 5 yards, and there was no such thing as a defenseless receiver.
    Because of the National fairies League the slot receiver has a role in just about every offense and should be respected position whether its a wide out or tight ends with hands.

  52. simonator917 says: Jul 6, 2014 10:39 PM

    Maybe the offense should be broken down into offensive linemen and skill-position players.

  53. edavidberg says: Jul 6, 2014 11:19 PM

    The fact that the Saints offered to make Graham the highest paid tight end ever is irrelevant because they are low balling him on what his market value is. This is in part why the Saints are so worked up about this. They want Graham to think of his value in terms of what tight ends typically make. He’s not doing that which is why he rejected their offer, which is quite low for a wide receiver.

    Here are Tony Gonzales’ thoughts on it:

    “I anticipate [Graham] will sign somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million per year over five years, which is great money. But an elite wide receiver will make $14 million-$16 million per season. Let’s say we even round down and give that receiver $13 million a year over the same span of five years; Jimmy Graham will miss out on $15 million as a tight end that he would make if classified as a receiver. Let’s not forget that Graham is young and could easily play another 10 years, which means the same thing could happen to him for his next contract. He would miss out on that same $15 million again.

    That is $30 million he won’t get because he’s called a tight end and because the NFL slots salaries based on position names instead of by production. So in light of Wednesday’s decision against Jimmy Graham, it’s not just a loss for him but a loss for every player that wears the shield.”

  54. fanme57 says: Jul 7, 2014 12:34 AM

    “As the Saints see it, a tight end is a tight end no matter where he lines up or how often he lines up there.”

    The real problem is that’s not the language in the collective bargaining agreement…neither is the arbitrators totally arbitrary decision.

    Some TE who “feels” underpaid is going to take this decision to actual court, where it will be laughed out.

  55. bcgreg says: Jul 7, 2014 7:27 AM

    I have not read a thread on this site with more stupid comments than this one including all the Spygate threads.

    The ONLY part I agree with in assessing TE vs WR is who covers Graham more consistently. Graham is generally covered by Safeties and LBs. That makes him a TE. If Graham truly wants to be designated as a WR, then if I were the Saints in negotiations, I’d run the tape of when a CB covered him. When that happened, Graham had ZERO receptions against Talib. You still a WR, bro?

    Also, the terminology is not TE vs WR. One person above got it right. It’s TIGHT end vs SPLIT end. The terms ‘tight’ and ‘split’ referring to where you line up in reference to the line. So, the arbitrators reasoning is sound if Graham lines up more often within 4 yards of the line. He’s tight to the line as opposed to split outside. While I agree, it’s not the determining factor IMO. For that, I agree with the Saints 3rd reason of how an opponent defends Graham.

    Bottom line, Graham is a TE.

  56. nocajunboy says: Jul 7, 2014 8:03 AM

    This next few weeks will determine if Graham’s Agent is wise enough to have him sign a great Saints long term contract offer or he will wait through 1 productive year to be traded by the Saints for 2 first round picks during that time. Hopefully it will be with a team like Oakland, Dallas, New York Giants, Tennessee, Baltimore and not Carolina, Atlanta, or even Tampa Bay (in Saints division) or New England, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, or Green Bay (the rich getting richer).

  57. weneedlinemen42 says: Jul 7, 2014 9:33 AM

    “receivers are never covered by a linebacker. ”

    Unfortunately this is simply not true. Jim Halsett seemed to hate substituions and all too frequently kept his base 3-4 on the field against 3-wideouts.

    That has led to a number of occasions when we tried to cover a slot receiver with a linebacker.

    Obviously, covering receivers with linebackers doesn’t work very well but it hasn’t stopped bad defensive co-ordinators trying to do it.

  58. Spymaster Belichick says: Jul 7, 2014 9:39 AM

    Wes Welker is a tight end.

  59. bigwalt2990 says: Jul 7, 2014 9:40 AM

    You don’t see in-line blocking Tight Ends asking for Offensive Tackle money….

    Jimmy Graham should know better, he’s just getting greedy. He’s putting himself before the team.

  60. creeldawgster says: Jul 7, 2014 1:58 PM

    The Saints 3 definitons are really rite on for what a te is. Jimmy doesnt have the speed to be a wr and thats y when covered by a cb like Talib, he had 0 rec’s. He cant get seperation from cb’s but at the same time, hes too fast for lb’s, which is the main reason for his suit. That and his greedy agent! Jimmy was making $820,000 as a rookie so i think he wud be thrilled with a $9 mil/yr raise. Plus at $9.5-10 mil/yr he wud be the highest paid pass catcher on the Saints roster and te in the nfl. The $13 mil/yr for wr is an avg of the top 5 wr’s in the nfl. Most wr’s dont make what the Saints are offering so i dont see how so many peps think hes getting a bad deal. The only reason hes so good is because the Saints took a chance by drafting him in the 3rd rd after he only played 1 yr of te/ftball in coll(he was a basketball player) and taught him the position. Plus its because of the way the Saints create mismatches for him by lining him up in different positions that he had the kind of numbers he had. He truly owes his success to the Saints for using him for more than a traditional te. And for all the peps out there saying he wud get more from another tm, they had a chance to get him, all they had to do is give up 2 1st rd draft choices and pay him $13 mil/yr. Didnt happen because they all realize that he isnt worth it and that he has the numbers he has because of the system hes in.

  61. sb44champs says: Jul 7, 2014 3:55 PM

    Lots of amateur comedians today… What do they all have in common? They’re all fans of teams that haven’t had success in a very long time lol

  62. tavia47 says: Jul 9, 2014 8:50 AM

    It’s not Jimmy it’s his greedy Agent thats holding up everything he has to get his pay on too.

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