The New Orleans Saints and Tight End Jimmy Graham have yet to strike a deal over a long-term extension for the franchise-tagged star. When the Saints tagged Graham as a Tight End, it became likely that Graham, at some point, would opt to file a grievance with the NFL Players Association in order to contest that designation and lobby to be paid as a Wide Receiver. That was a move expected to take place sooner, rather than later, but as it turns out, Graham will have until March of 2017 to file such a grievance with the NFLPA, not mid-April as once thought. Graham can still file the grievance at any point between now and then, but time is not as big of an immediate issue. Jimmy Graham
Per the league's collective bargaining agreement, players have 50 days to file a non-injury grievance, and three years to file for a system arbitration. Graham, of course, would be filing the latter, making the 50-day deadline a moot point. Graham's desire to be tagged as a receiver stems from the approximate $5.2 million extra he would earn under the tag as opposed to the Tight End position. Having lined up nearly 70% percent of his 2013 snaps out wide or in the slot, Graham views himself as a wideout and wants to be paid like one.
A close analysis of Graham's snaps show that he played an in-line Tight End position 31% of his time on the field. In contrast, 39.5% of his snaps came in the slot, with the remaining 29.5% out wide. Graham did most of his damage in the slot, hauling in 42 of his 86 receptions for 480 yards and 8 touchdowns. He received the majority of his targets coming out of the slot and created matchup problems for opposing defenses, often finding himself covered by Linebackers or smaller defensive backs. These stats lend creedence to Graham's belief that he should be designated as a receiver, though the monetary difference relative to the designated positions is the main issue at hand.
The Saints would still like to make all of this discussion irrelevant and get a deal done before camp begins in July. The only major deadline in play is July 15, upon which the team must get a long-term deal done with Graham, or the the dynamic former Basketball player must go through the 2014 year under the tag or sit out the season. As of this week, the Saints and general Manager Mickey Loomis remain optimistic that an agreement will be struck between now and July.
Jimmy Graham is going to get paid. That is certain. It will take some careful and clever negotiating to get a deal done before the team reports for training camp in July, but with more than 3 months until then, the Saints can continue to strategically prepare themselves for such negotiations. It would be a luxury to get something worked out with Graham and his camp long before the summer, but there is plenty of time at hand, and with the NFL Draft on deck next month, the Saints have more than just this issue to focus their attention on.
Jimmy Graham has earned his forthcoming payday. He knows it, as do the Saints. Chances are, this will get worked out in the weeks and months ahead, and the organization as a whole can focus on what happens strictly on the field when the team reports to camp in 3 months' time.