In a move that has seemingly been on the cards since he was assigned the franchise tag in late February, New Orleans Sains Tight End Jimmy Graham has had a grievance filed on his behalf by the players' association. The grievance will contest the Saints' designation of Graham as a Tight End, whereas Graham and his representatives feel he should be tagged and paid as a receiver.
The Saints drafted and developed Graham to play Tight End. Looking to take advantage of his dynamic skill set and playmaking ability, the team has moved Graham around all over the offense, lining him up at an in-line position, out wide, and in the slot. However, they still view him as a Tight End.
The 2013 season culminated with Graham lining up around 67% of his team's snaps either out wide or in the slot, and Graham and his agent are citing this statistic as to why he should be viewed and paid as a receiver.
The financial discrepancy between the tags at those two positions in certainly notable. Tight Ends playing under the tag in 2014 will receive $7.035 million, whereas receivers will earn $12.312 million. That $5.3 million difference now sets in play a potential arbitration hearing in which both sides would state their case. Of course, this could all be a moot point if Graham and the Saints are able to strike an agreement on the long-term deal that both sides want to get done before any such hearing were to occur.
Graham and the Saints have until July 15 to come to such an agreement, or else he will only be able to play under a one-year deal in 2014. Two years ago, the Saints faced a similar negotiating battle with Quarterback Drew Brees, an instance in which a deal was ultimately done in time for the start of training camp. However, there was no dispute over which position Brees should be compensated as, he was the Quarterback, and talks were centered strictly around terms. Will Graham's situation turn out like Drew Brees's did 2 years ago?
Graham is said to be seeking in excess of $10 million, which would see him pip Rob Gronkowski as the league's highest paid Tight End. Graham is one of the league's most effective playmakers, and occupies an important role in Sean Payton's offense. Even in the earliest years of his Saints tenure, Payton's high-powered offenses have relied on their Tight Ends to help move the chains and make plays over the middle and down the field. Both sides want to get a deal done, so the closer the summer gets, the better the chance of an agreement being reached, though the obstacle of an arbitration hearing appears to be up next should that deal not be struck within the coming weeks.
All talk of franchise tags, contracts and grievances aside, Jimmy Graham should almost certainly be a New Orleans Saint next season. As of today, the best forecast seems to be for Graham's situation to follow a similar timetable to that of Brees two summers ago. Before the ball gets to either side's respective court, it may have to bounce in the court of an arbitrator. The only way to bypass this step is to get a deal done.
A ball for Jimmy, a ball for the Saints. It's in your court, both of you. Negotiate, and let's avoid seeing one another in that court.