Graham ruling provides blueprint for other teams with pass-catching tight ends


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.

21 responses to “Graham ruling provides blueprint for other teams with pass-catching tight ends

  1. Eric Ebron is not relevant to these conversations and needs to shut it. He was by far the worst pick based on need in the first round and a likely bust. He is a tweener, not big enough to play TE, and not fast enough to play WR.

  2. Wonder what percentage of snaps Wes Welker lined up within 4 yards of the tackle? He’s clearly not a tight end, but by the letter of this ruling, a team could call him that. Welker’s not going to be franchised, but what about an up and coming slot guy? How long before the team tries to tag him as a tight end?

  3. It’s a shame that this case may affect the integrity of the game. If players are going to complain that they are a WR when in fact they are a TE, coaches may have to assess how they line players up based off made up regulations that determine if a player is a WR or TE. Good job Jimmy.

  4. Um… a TE is a TE. A WR is a WR. The team designated the position. Sorry.

    Jason Peters wanted to have the QB designation, but the team said “Your gonna not only play Left Tackle, but also be called a Left Tackle.”

    You don’t get to say you are a WR to get paid if your are a TE. Even a really realy really really good TE, who does a part of the TE’s job (pass catching) really really well. C’mon man. Hopefully this is over.

  5. Tight end is already a hybrid category. Why are people acting like the tight end franchise tag # is being brought down by traditional tight ends? All of the highest paid tight ends are of the pass catching types.

    Maybe they do need more pay, but this idea that they need a separate tag is silly.

  6. The obvious answer is to DEFINE positions clearly in writing within the CBA. Otherwise, it’s groundhog day and this type thing will be tested over and over.

    Who benefits by obscurity? Label the positions by job description and it’s over. You can’t have a foot left or right determine salary.

    Nothing earth-shattering about what Ebron said. It makes commonsense. I guess that’s why you could expect resistance by the league.

  7. This is sad and shows how greed screws things up.

    The commenter who said “A tight end is a tight end” was right.

    It’s a position on the team. If you have a running back who catches more passes coming out of the backfield than he makes rushes, does he press to get receiver money? No. Or at least he shouldn’t.

    This is not about tight ends getting paid fairly. Because the market will bear what it will bear.

    Anyone getting a franchise tag is NOT a regular player at their position. Most players will hit the market and what tight ends can and will be paid will be very clearly offered to them.

    Anyone getting a franchise tag is getting PAID at a level equal to what most ordinary folks only dream of earning during the their entire LIFESPAN.

    So I don’t cry for Jimmy Graham. Actually I deplore his allowing the issue to even be pushed.

    All he has done is make things worse for roster clarity and locker room peace across the league. How exactly do we classify Patrick Peterson now?

    Graham will survive being paid handsomely even if it’s not as much as he wants. And when the tag cannot be used, he is free to go and see what the market will offer him.

    This was and should be a non-issue that is one now because Graham and his agent wanted to stick it to the Saints for not agreeing to their excessive contract demands.

    They were willing to pursue a technicality in their desire for both the most cash and a dash of vengeance.

    How petty, greedy, and unworthy of respect they have shown themselves to be.

    Graham better try to cash in now because he’s undermined his chances at commercial spokesperson opportunities.

    Myself, I will deliberately boycott anyone that chooses this dollar chaser to represent their product. Meh I say unto him, MEH!

  8. The “never intermingle tight ends and receivers” idea sounds totally impractical in today’s NFL. Who is going to sacrifice team unity and offensive cohesiveness to guard against something as uncommon an event as this? Even if the Saints had lost it wouldn’t have exactly been the end of the world for them. They’d just have had to of paid him as a wide receiver. The sun would still have risen the next day.

  9. Ok… I’m having tough time understanding all the Ebron hate. He hasn’t been out partying, he isn’t rude, he hasn’t shown to be a diva. All he’s done is said he’d love to be a ProBowl WR and thinks, in this offense, he’ll play a very intricate role, such as Graham. He isn’t going out of his way to be stupid or to get interviews. He’s asked questions, he answers them and he hasn’t answered anything rude. Can’t wait to watch this kid play. Mayock said he was more fluid than watkins. As a TE with CJ eating up doubles, that should be awesome. .. Go Ebron

  10. Graham was in the slot 2/3 of the snaps he took. They can label him whatever they like. Thats a WR position. If I did someone elses job and was underpaid for it i’d probably have a problem with it as well. Where you line up is how you determine position. They literally just made up a line and said this is the limit for the TE position. Ridiculous

  11. As far as blocking Tight Ends not making any Pro-Bowls? Let’s see, hmm? Jason Witten 9+ Pro-Bowl 6+ All-Pro, Vernon Davis, 2+Pro-Bowl, AP All-Peo, Mark Barvaro 2+ Pro-Bowl 2+ All-Pro, should I go on? Yeah, maybe I am wrong? He could just be a Wideout? Because he couldn’t block my 17 yr old Son!

  12. Because of the franchise tag, Jimmy Graham is not allowed to test the market and negotiate with other teams. Because of the TE designation he is maximum income is about $5M per season below what he would receive if permitted to test the market.
    This is patently unfair. 67% of his snaps last year were taken effectively as a receiver. He is 6’8″ and excells at catching the ball in mismatches – that’s what he does.
    This is a victory for Goodell preserving the status quo but when a a great player at his zenith is not even permitted to test the market and given a designation deliberately to reduce earnings – it is a total sham.
    There were no limitations set on Roger Goodell’s ability to earn $44M last year.

  13. Don’t worry saints fans jimmy graham is about to sign a long term deal . I think he will make between 10 and 11 million a year . This ruling is correct and I don’t think jimmy will risk his career behind 5 million 1 year when he can make at least 10 a year with money guaranteed and job security . This whole situation is stupid and they should just ink this deal because jimmy wants to be a saint but he needs to STOP BEING GREEDY! And stop bringing drama to the New Orleans Saints . WHO DAT!!!!!

  14. Because of the franchise tag, Graham is paid at the top level for his position out of the gate. That’s not chicken feed by any measure.

    It’s a presumption that only he has that he could obtain wide receiver money on the open market.

    And if that’s the case, the franchise tag can only be used for so long before he gets his chance.

    And he will still be Well Paid all along the way. And then he can get a contract that will raise the bar for TE franchising.

    The system can and does work. That someone does not get paid every single dollar they could every single year is not a realistic expectation.

    If that’s what people want to advocate, let’s let players opt out of their rookie contracts after the first year, so people like JJ Watt, etc., can cash in sooner.

    No? Let the process play out? He’s going to come into a fat, fat contract of his own in good time? OK.

    Then aren’t we blowing this matter out of proportion if we start lamenting for this multimillionaire not being “as much” of a multimillionaire?

    Kind of a nice problem to have. I’m pretty sure I know some fire jumpers who risk their lives every outing who wouldn’t mind making Graham’s “chump change.”

  15. Erbon is right: a hybrid tight end could be a tight end that receives more than he blocks, but get paid the same as a tight end. It all comes down to a tight end is just a tight end no matter what they are asked to do.

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