Arbitrator Stephen Burbank has ruled in favor of the New Orleans Saints, declaring that Jimmy Graham will remain tagged as a tight end. This follows a two-day grievance hearing held last month in the New Orleans area, in which both Graham and the Saints stated their respective cases in front of Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor. The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was the first to break the news.
Pending an appeal, Graham will be scheduled to earn just over $7 million under the tight end tag, as opposed to the approximate $12 million the receiver's tag would have paid. The Saints have already factored the tight end tag's value into their salary cap structure for the 2014 season. Both sides have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract, which could make the ruling a moot point, but an appeal by Graham and his camp could push that deadline to the limit. Tagged: Jimmy Graham's franchise tag designation remains that of a tight end.
The Saints have the leverage in negotiations now, but it is still likely that Graham will emerge from this at some point as the league's highest-paid tight end, likely to surpass New England's Rob Gronkowski, who earns about $9 million per season. The fact that Graham could increase his 2014 salary by hammering out a long-term deal with the Saints should help speed up negotiations.
Graham argued that 67% of his 2013 snaps came either split out wide or in the slot, as opposed to a more "traditional" in-line tight end's positioning. Therefore, he believed he should have been tagged as a receiver, which would have seen the value of his tag spike over $5 million more than the tight end tag would have compensated him. The Saints, in turn, argued that they drafted Graham out of the University of Miami in 2010 to play the tight end position. The team also stated that Graham meets with the tight ends and also lists himself as a tight end on his personal twitter page.
A versatile, dynamic weapon who is entering his fifth season as a pro, Jimmy Graham has tallied 41 touchdowns in his brief career, and is coming off a year in which he hauled in 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 scores.
If a deal is not struck by July 15, Graham must either sign his franchise tender or sit out the season. He now has the option to appeal the ruling to a three-person panel, per the league's collective bargaining agreement.
A two-time Pro Bowler and 2013 All Pro selection, Jimmy Graham has missed the Saints' entire offseason program, having been away from the team due to the ongoing dispute over his tag designation. If the Saints can get him signed soon, his presence will be welcomed at training camp, which is set to begin on July 24 in West Virginia.
We will keep you posted on any further news as it relates to this topic.