It’s official, sort of. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is a tight end for franchise tag purposes. The decision from arbitrator Stephen Burbank keeps an extra $5.3 million in 2014 base pay out of Graham’s pockets, maintaining his salary and cap number at $7 million.
Graham has not yet addressed the ruling, on Twitter or otherwise. The union representing him in the process has.
“The NFLPA will review with Jimmy Graham the decision from Arbitrator Stephen Burbank which permits the player to be designated as a tight end for Franchise Tag purposes,” the union said in a press release. “We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter.”
On the surface, his options are simple. He can appeal the ruling to a three-person panel, or he can drop it.
Under the normal procedure spelled out in the labor deal, however, Graham’s appeal wouldn’t be resolved by July 15, the deadline for doing a long-term contract with the Saints. So if he hopes to push the pendulum decisively in his direction before the last day for using that as leverage on a long-term contract, he needs to request an expedited appeal, with a ruling coming in the next 13 days at the latest.
Here’s the catch. Graham deliberately waited from the application of the tag in late February until the middle of April to file the grievance. Thus, the three-person panel could response to a request for a speedy appeal by saying, “You should have filed your grievance earlier.”
Either way, the Saints and Graham have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal. If Graham is sufficiently upset by the team’s victory and the manner in which they procured it (e.g., having his head coach testify against Graham), he could choose to refuse to do a long-term deal, going all in with an appeal that, if successful, would drive his franchise tender to $12.3 million, forcing the Saints to tender Graham at $14.76 million in 2015 if they want to keep him from the open market.