Following the NFLPA's movement to file a grievance on behalf of Jimmy Graham, the ensuing hearing is expected to go forth sometime next month, according to New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. The hearing will help determine Graham's franchise tag designation.
Graham has been tagged by the Saints as a Tight End, the position they drafted him to play, but the ex-Miami Hurricane views himself as a receiver, having lined up nearly 67% of his offensive snaps out wide or in the slot in 2013. The Saints often look to move Graham around the offense in order to create mismatches, limiting his snaps in a more traditional in-line Tight End position.
The main issue at hand from Graham's perspective is the nearly $5 million left on the table were he to remain tagged as a Tight End. Receivers are scheduled to earn over $12 million under the tag, whereas Tight Ends will be paid closer to $7 million. Jimmy Graham and the Saints look set for an arbitration hearing in the next month.
Speaking to the media ahead of the final day of the 2014 NFL Draft, Loomis did not give an exact date of when such a hearing could take place, but says the current time frame seems to be within "another month." If the hearing is to occur, both parties must first settle on a neutral third-party arbitrator to hear each side's case.
The Saints and Graham would both like to get a long-term deal done sooner rather than later. Should a deal get done within the next month, the franchise tag and subsequent hearing would become moot points. However, it is likely that this situation could drag on throughout the balance of the offseason and into the summer, similar to what happened two years ago when QB Drew Brees went through a somewhat similar contract dispute with the club. Brees eventually ended up getting his deal done on the eve of training camp.
Graham is said to be seeking a deal that would make him the highest paid Tight End in the league. This would mean his preferred annual salary would likely exceed $10 million. Graham seems content to be paid in the long-term as a Tight End, but not in the short-term.
New Orleans has until July 15 to get Graham signed to a long-term contract, otherwise, the dynamic playmaker will only be able to take the field in 2014 under a one-year deal. In other words, it would be in the best interests of both sides to come to an agreement before mid-July, whether this case goes before an arbitrator or not.
Loomis made sure to note that there were no hard feelings or bridges burned between the organization and one of its most prized players as a result of the fallout from this dispute. Negotiations are negotiations. Loomis has been down this road before, and the end goal remains the same; get a long-term deal for Jimmy Graham done, and shift the focus back to where it matters most, Football.