Jimmy Graham's grievance hearing has been officially slated to take place from June 17-18, following the NFLPA's move to file for an arbitrator to help determine which poistion the ex- Miami Hurricane should be designated as under the franchise tag. The New Orleans Saints tagged Graham as a Tight End, whereas Graham's camp would prefer him to be tagged as a receiver.
As we wrote over the weekend, it was expected that a date would be set within the next few weeks following comments from Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. Both sides now have just over a month to prepare their respective cases, which will be heard by an independent third-party arbitrator. Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis shifts his focus from the draft to Jimmy Graham.
The Saints obviously view Jimmy Graham as a Tight End, having drafted him to play that position. Graham has emerged as one of the league's best modern-day Tight Ends, possessing a dynamic skill set and athleticism that allows coach Sean Payton to move him around the team's offense in order to create mismatches. Having played 67% of the Saints' 2013 snaps out wide or in the slot, Graham's side believes he should be justified to be designated as a receiver.
The financial discrepancy under the tag between the two positions is the main issue at play. Receivers playing under the tag in 2014 stand to earn nearly $5 million more than similarly tagged Tight Ends. Graham is believed to be in search of a long-term deal that would make him the league's highest paid Tight End, which would net him somewhere between $10-12 million annually. Being tagged as a receiver would essentially give him a one year deal worth such financial terms.
Graham is not the only Tight End to spend most of his time operating in a non-traditional in line position. For instance, Ravens Tight End Dennis Pitta played a whopping 74% of his snaps in a receiver's position. Pitta missed several games due to an offseason injury, but was still utilized in his normal role as a move Tight End. Like Graham, Pitta appeared headed for the tag and a possible grievance hearing of his own, but the Ravens were able to come to terms with him on a 5 year $32 million pact. The Saints and Graham would love to strike an agreement over a long-term deal of their own, and it is possible that this hearing may help speed up negotiations.
In a perfect world, both sides would agree terms before mid-June in order to avoid arbitration altogether. However, this could also drag beyond such a hearing and into July, similar to what happened two years ago with Drew Brees's contract situation. The Saints ultimately got a deal done with Brees on the brink of training camp, and will hope to do the same with Graham, regardless of the outcome of next month's scheduled hearing.
The sides have until July 15 to reach an agreement on a long-term contract, otherwise Graham will only be able to play in 2014 under a one-year deal.