Four yards save Saints more than $5 million

Getty Images

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank has issued his decision regarding the Jimmy Graham grievance.  Ultimately, four yards of turf saved $5.3 million for the Saints.

Burbank, finding the plain language of the labor deal not plain enough to allow him to determine whether lining up in the slot makes a player a receiver or a tight end, drew an unofficial line between the tackle and the sideline.

When Graham lined up within four yards of the tackle, Graham was still a tight end.  When he lined up more than four yards away from the tackle, he was a receiver.

“I conclude that Mr. Graham was at the position of tight end for purposes of Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) when, at the snap, he was aligned adjacent to or ‘arm’s-length’ from the nearest offensive lineman and also when he was in the slot, at least if such alignment brought him within four yards of such linemen,” Burbank wrote in the 14-page, single-spaced decision obtained by PFT.  Because Graham lined up in either of those two ways more than half the time in 2013, Burbank concluded that Graham is a tight end for purposes of the franchise tag.

So why did Burbank draw a line in the slot?  Burbank concluded that, within the distance of four yards, a tight end can perform any of his three primary roles:  blocking on running plays, blocking on passing plays, and running pass routes.

The somewhat arbitrary distance crafted by the arbitrator feels like an effort to reach the result that Burbank believed to be the fair result, based on evidence that the Saints scouted and drafted Graham as a tight end, that Graham calls himself a tight end, that he made the Pro Bowl as a tight end, and that he generally is a tight end.  Unable to easily tuck the snaps taken in the slot into either the tight end or receiver bucket, Burbank crafted a dividing line that put enough snaps in the tight end category.

Right or wrong, Burbank’s decision becomes the law of the NFL land unless and until it’s reversed on appeal.  And the appeal will become moot if the Saints sign Graham to a long-term deal — or if another team swoops in and signs him to an offer sheet that the Saints won’t or can’t match.

90 responses to “Four yards save Saints more than $5 million

  1. For once Burbank ruled in the Saints favor…. but more than likely because the NFL was on the side of the Saints all along..

  2. I hope Graham realizes now that’s he’s truly a tight end…
    Marshawn lynch caught hella passes last year. That doesn’t make him a receiver.. That means, like a lot of football players… You get more uses than what you are hired for. I’ve worked jobs where my title, which I was hired for, did not always allow me to stay away from other duties as assigned. Quit whining and suck it up Graham!

  3. Well now we have a better understanding of the rules. This version of the game means that there is no money bonus if you land in the Free Parking territory, and that space is clearly marked and labeled. Happy rolling, but still feels kinda funky that the coaches can intelligently manipulate the outcome of the roll.

  4. I’m still stunned that nowhere in the CBA are any of the positions eligible for the franchise tag actually defined. How dozens of lawyers missed that gaping hole is beyond me.

  5. So….the best slot receivers in the NFL can now be tagged as TEs?

    Get this arbitrator a job on the Supreme Court bench…Scalia, Thomas, Alito, et al would welcome this guy with open arms….

    NFL just got weird…

  6. If Graham breaks any receiving records are they WR or TE records? I do think he is a TE but, worth much more money than than a regular TE (in the way the Saints use him). If he was playing for the Jets, Raiders, Jag’s, Browns etc. there would be no issue at all. He would be an average TE.

  7. Obviously the guys a tight end , but should be making more than 7 mill a year. Hes the best tight end in football

  8. I’ve heard of Activist Judges – our current Supreme Court has five of them – but an Activist Arbitrator is a new one for me. Maybe he’s looking for a promotion.

  9. they should give him a small bonus token, a mill or so. this could get crazy and if they do lose him, brees is gonna crap himself

  10. This whole situation with Jimmy Graham is just silly, the guy is a TE and there’s no reason to go down the slippery slope of having to define each position through technicalities. If in the past you asked Jimmy what position he played…he would have told you Tight End, and in the future if his name comes up as a potential Hall-of-Famer…it will be as a Tight End. So why on Earth is this guy suddenly trying to redefine the position? The answer is….money.

  11. Great message you sent to your players Saints. Sign Gimpy Jarius Byrd to an obscene contract and penny pinch when it comes to the touch down machine on your team that has outplayed his contract for years. Talk about finding a way to demotivate your team.

  12. It says when at arms length and ALSO when in the slot if it is within 4 yds…. not that 4 yds is an arms length…

  13. So what positions actually need defining?

    WR? No.
    QB? No.
    RB? No
    OT, G, C? No.
    DT, DE, NT? No
    CB? No.
    S. No.
    LB? No.
    TE? Apparently and is now been defined.

  14. Touchdown machine caught one pass in the Divisional Round of the playoffs…and came off the field when other TEs would have been on to block.

    I’m Jimmy!


  15. Reason # 3265 players leave and take a little less to play on another team in the conference

  16. Stating the criteria – within 4 yards of… – that make you a TE is a bad idea all around. Gets back to the idea that coaches might be told where they can line up their guys based on what future salary they might command.

  17. Stats should dictate how much a player gets paid, not his position. However, that will not change without an amendment to the CBA, which won’t happen until it freezes over down there. Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Ebron, etc. – the guys who perform/will perform like wide outs get the short end of the deal.

  18. I read the headline and expected to hear that Graham didn’t gain 5 extra yards or something to be a wide receiver. That woulda been a head scratcher.

    This makes more sense, …. i think….

  19. they should have a base rate for all players and have bonus based on yards gained rushing, number of catches, number of TD’s, etc. so all get paid 250K a year, 2500 bonus per catch, 5K bonus per td, etc. no more crazy contracts

  20. I am actually very proud of the NFL and Mr. Burbank for this ruling. This is really the only argument that needed to be made. I think there should be a separate tag for slot receivers.

  21. Damnit Vernon! you are supposed to be lined up 3 yards over from the tackle. Why do you keep lining up 5 yards out?

  22. The Supreme Court is actually in the midst of the highest number of unanimous decisions since the 1940s. If you’re looking for the activists responsible, you should start at the White House.

  23. Seems completely arbitrary — I wonder what the result would have been if he used 3 years instead of 4.

    In any case, it will be interesting to see if: (a) the Saints design formations so Jimmy is within 4 yards of the OL; and (b) Jimmy lines up a little wider than he’s supposed to just to stick it to them…

  24. Vernon lined up next to the tackle on more than 50% of plays last year so this ruling does not effect him.

    If I’m Jimmy Graham I’m calling myself a wide receiver starting immediately and I’m refusing to line up within 4 yards of the tackle.

    Not crying for Jimmy but I’m not sure the Saints deserved the $5 million. This guy is clearly worth more than he is getting, plus he is more like a wide receiver than he is a tight end. But again, its hard to shed a tear for Jimmy.

  25. So if a WR lines up in the slot within 4 yards of the tackle, are they considered a tight end?

    And does the ruling consider where they ‘line up’ or where they are when the ball is snapped. What if the receiver lines up in the slot and then goes in motion?

  26. I agree with the decision but his reasoning and insertion of a new standard were unnecessary and create future problems. I’m not sure that the arbiter had the authority to make a new standard to define the position and that leaves the appeal process somewhat favorable for a reversal on that basis. That wouldn’t make JG a WR for tag purposes, just that the entire decision could get thrown out if it id deemed that the arbiter overstepped his bounds.

    All the arbiter had to do was decide who’s understanding of the rule would be used (league’s or union’s). If it stands then teams will monitor where the TE line’s up. (What if he lines up next to the tackle and then goes in motion without establishing a new set position pre-snap? It was ridiculous to add that 4 yard demarcation that will lead to future challenges. All he needed to do to justify his decision is show that at no time did JG line up as something other than a TE. TEs are allowed to line up all over the line as long as the “cover” requirement is met. (Does that even matter anymore if he lines up outside of 4 yards from the tackle?)

  27. If the Saints line Jimmy up 4 yds always than they’re telegraphing their offense to other defenses. Remember, wonce he signs on the dotted line for a specific ammount, he won’t be able to change it until the duration is over when he is well over 30. I don’t think it will be an issue by then.

  28. If I was Jimmy I would not play until he gets paid for production.

    He is paid to perform he is the best in the league. He needs to be paid.

  29. If he wants the TE tag to be higher, he needs to sign his nice fat contract. Guess what happens? The TE franchise tag will go up, and in a matter of a few years, you will have all these hybrids at the top of the TE class making big money on their contracts, and the TE tag will only be beneficial for a pass-catching tight end. Problem solved. (And no blocking tight end will ever be franchised again, not that many were)

  30. Yep & when he leaves don’t cry about it either!! I’m sure he will go all out now for his Coach too!! Drew Brees thinks the Saints will be fine with or without him!! Who else do they have that can get open on their own without his help!! Sproles, oh that’s right they let him go too!!!

  31. He won’t be there that long cuz its all about the money for him if u cant tell will c Graham in a new uniform next sorry saints fans

  32. Wow, the only way to make big money in the NFL is QB, corner or receiver. I guess it truly is a passing league.

  33. Graham should accept the TE tag and simply not line up out wide this season. Give them what they want: a tight end.

  34. Really, what a surprise that the team and the league would win this one……. Maybe Drew can give y0u a little cash Jimmy. Oh yea, Matt Stafford sucks too.

  35. In the end, if he signs a long term deal. It will be that the Saints really only saved around two mil not five. He’s worth about $10 mil a year to the Saints.

  36. The NFL can now expect a real lawsuit.

    You can’t make rules, then ignore them

  37. A TE is a TE is a TE… Just because your soft and can’t block doesn’t mean u can claim your a receiver. I bet that was his argument too “well, I never block” lol

  38. What’s really ridiculous is that his skill set is such that he’s both a TE and WR in the Saints offense. He can block, and he can play receiver. He’s far more valuable than any WR. He should be compensated as both a TE and WR.

  39. Patrick Peterson should get franchised someday as a top CB, as well as receive a portion of the top KR and WR franchise payments since he’s done them all.

  40. That ruling is ridiculous. The plain language of the CBA says position is determined by play count. A player not on the line of scrimmage can not be an end. Period, end of story. Wes Welker isn’t a TE.

    If Graham lines up on the line of scrimmage within hand-holding distance of the tackle, it’s fine to count that play as a TE play. But not many people have 72 inch arms which is what would be needed for the 4 yard rule to apply. This is simply a petty example of an arbitrator making stuff up and ripping Graham off. But Burbank is probably used to things like that, try arbitrating against a securities firm over mishandling of a brokerage account.

  41. Many people just missing the point here……Saints aren’t cheaping out on him, he’s asking for more than what the LEAGUE franchise tag is for a TE. Simply put, you’re a TE dude. If the Saints want to pay him WR money they will. If they don’t then they don’t and he can get it elsewhere. He’s crying because he knows plenty of crappy teams will pay huge money for him and who really wants to leave Drew Brees or a city you’re a hero in? No denying how good he is, but he’s still whiny U trash.

  42. First and foremost Jimmy is a TE. But I see his arguement for trying to obtain more than the tag for TE, because frankly he deserves it. Check these numbers from 2013 and then you can decide if he is getting screwed on this deal. Personally, I think it is BS that the arbitrator ruled this way, but I understand the rational as to why, and the CBA between the NFL and Union and its designations for certain positions. But when you put up these numbers….there has to be some increased incentive on the part of the player who deserves more than the tag for his postion. For those of you who are trying to compare RB’s when they catch the ball or throw passes, we are not even in the same arena when comparing a slot WR..or WR in general to a TE who catches in (comparison) of balls as a WR in the league.

    Check out these numbers, and see for yourself. By the way Jimmy had 16 TD’s last year, tops for all WR/TE, and only second in the league total to Jamaal Charles who combined had 19 TD’s last season.

    Targets, receptions, yards, TD’s

    Jimmy Graham, 142-86-1,215-16
    Dem. Thomas, 142-92-1,430-14
    Megatron, 156-84-1,489-12
    Josh Gordon, 159-87-1,646-9
    Dez Bryant, 159-93-1,249-12
    BMarsh, 164-100-1,295-12

    Proof is in the numbers guys, enough said

  43. He’s a “move” tight end. He blocks like pom pom girl… If you want to see a true tight end blocking, watch Gronk crush some DE on a running play.

  44. At least their is now a clear definition to the TE vs WR argument.

    Look for the NFL to avoid similar arguments in the future by defining each position.

    The way it stands, is there anything that prevents a HC or GM from stating that a player “is a punter, we just play him at WR sometimes” thereby making him eligible to be tagged at the punter/kicker level?

    (And no, common sense is not a valid answer!!)

  45. The 95th pick who played one year of college football and got an opportunity that he didn’t get with the NBA…to play pro sports. The Saints utilized him and made it possible that one day he could become the highest paid TE in the league. Have some patience.

  46. WR or TE? Either way, he’ll still be playing in the wild card round.

    Geaux Saints. And take the Pelicans with you.


  47. makes little difference, some team is going to pay him as a top wide receiver next year. now that hes pissed off at the saints im guessing it wont be them.

  48. 1961 Receiving leaders

    “TE” Mike Ditka 1961 – 56 1076 19.2 12
    “WR” Red Phillips 1961 – 78 1092 14.0 5
    “WR” Raymond Berry 1961 75 873 11.6 0
    “WR” RC Owens 1961 55 1032 18.8 5
    “WR” Buddy Dial 1961 53 1047 19.8 12

    Who’s going to be the one to let Mike Ditka know he wasn’t actually a TE?

  49. Surely, the NFL can establish positions where players are playing two different positions. It just seems fair to all (except the greedy people). Given the contentious nature of this negotiation, no one would blame Graham for playing out this year only at the TE position, giving the finger to the Saints and moving own. His QB would be demanding an explanation from management.

  50. Franchise tag= you in our immediate plans, but not our long term plans..

    There’s only a handful of guys whose ended up getting the long term deal with the team that franchise tags em.

  51. TE is an outdated term in football, and is weighed down by baggage from roles of days gone by. A TE a decade ago was a blocker first and a WR last, which is more related to the definition here. However, they should lose that title altogether… call him a Big Body Wide Receiver and designate him as an “Offensive Weapon”, and just start over with all that labeling nonsense.

  52. Lol this is the most retarded explanation I’ve ever heard. This arbiter ‘s ruling and rationale makes absolutely zero sense.

    Legal system and arbitration ruling seem to largely favor employers in employee – employer grievances.

  53. There is no question about it, and not because of 4 yards. The author of this piece is blindly committed to a losing argument. Jimmy Graham was ruled a tight end because really is a tight end. His team, his opponents, and even himself have always accepted the fact that he plays tight end. Jimmy Graham went to the probowl as a tight end, he is in the record books as a tight end. He is a tight end, and deep down inside Jimmy Graham knows that he is a tight end. He will be paid as the best tight end in the league, deservedly so. We can debate all day long how much he should get paid, but there is no debating that he is a tight end.

  54. I can see why the arbitrator arrived at the decision he did, but I still feel like Graham kind of got screwed over.

    I wonder if this will lead more college basketball players to pursue the wide receiver position rather than the tight end position where they normally seem to fall if they play football.

  55. Once again, fans side with the guys that own the talent and against a player that wears the team’s laundry. It reminds me of Tarrantino’s film. Fans resent even the best players just like Stephen resented Django for being free.

  56. Where did he pull the 4 yards from? Perhaps a dark crevice, not in front of him?

    I’m gonna take a wild guess that the 4 yard measurement created out of thin air, doesn’t pass muster.

    The arbitrator just made up an NFL rule that never before existed. No matter what side you fall on, you have to admit that no court or arbitrator is supposed to create the rules, just interpret them.

  57. Based on his last game, Jimmy Graham should be paid much less than 7 million. Deva boy should be grateful he’s still on the team.

  58. The NFL clearly need to redesign the franchise tag system, into clearer roles. There should be a different tag for an offensive guard, than an offensive tackle, there is a sizeable gap between the value of those two positions. Similarly there should be differentiation between a slot wr and an outside wr, etc. etc.

  59. 4 yards = tight. That is the new standard. I suggest Jimmy should get his “end” loose somehow and get paid for being a loose end.

  60. Will we start to see TEs, when lining up in this ‘4 yard’ area, take a couple of steps away from the tackle so they are outside the window, coaches be damned?

  61. So lining up close enough to lineman to pass block, run block or catch passes gets you the TE franchise tag. I hope every FB was paying attention.

  62. When has stats ever defined what you were? What about a LB that gets more picks than a safety or corner.. are then now a DB?

    Bottom line if freaking simple:
    You were used as a pass catching TE that had the ability to create mismatches when occasionally put in the slot. You are a TE. A great one that deserves great pay for a TE. But you are a TE. End of story.

    Also, he’s great, but lets not discount the benefits of the system he’s in.

    I could care less about the Saints for the record, I just want common sense to be the norm. Go Bears!

  63. I look forward to drafting Wes Welker as a TE this year in my FFL. Isn’t he lining up 4 yards from lineman? Don’t recievers block when asked to (just ask Aqib Talib)?

    Again…arbitrator decided the answer before the question was even asked and went to great pains to make the ‘facts’ fit his answer.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.