Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated
Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated

Jimmy Graham Plays Tag

The Saints, ahem, ‘tight end’ played two-thirds of his snaps in the slot or split out wide in 2013. Will an arbitrator determine that his franchise tag should be at the better compensated level of wide receiver? And in the end, will it matter?

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·

A hearing is set for this week to determine the franchise tag calculation for the Saints’ Jimmy Graham. At issue for the arbitrator is the proper tag amount to be applied to Graham—and to be counted against the Saints’ salary cap: the amount for a tight end ($7 million) or for a wide receiver ($12.3 million). Let’s look at the arguments:

Graham’s argument

The Players Association will focus on the specific language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, basing the tag designation (and calculation) on the position “at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.” Graham lined up outside the traditional tackle box—either in the slot position or at wide receiver—for 67 percent of his total plays in 2013. Thus, a strict legal reading—and, as we know by now, there will be lawyers—presents a simple, clear and persuasive argument for Graham.

NFL’s argument

The NFL Management Council will take a broader approach, trying to shift the discussion from a specific “number of plays” dispute to a deeper referendum on league-wide use of the tight end. They will present evidence to show Graham, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and others increasingly split out to create matchup advantages. And, in so doing, these players are still acting as tight ends, not wide receivers. Their positioning according to scheme, they will argue, should not change their designation for tag purposes.

Further, the NFLMC will drive home Graham’s official positional designation since entering the league: Graham played tight end in college, was drafted as a tight end, is listed on the roster and depth chart as a tight end, and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a tight end, etc.

The precedent

There is no grievance or arbitration result to be used as precedent. A pending dispute between the Packers and Jermichael Finley was headed off by a two-year contract worth the midpoint between the two tag numbers at the time ($7.5 million). A different positional dispute involving the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs—whether he would be designated as a defensive lineman or linebacker—was also contractually resolved prior to a hearing.

A secondary issue

The tag amount over a one-year number disguises the real issue: the negotiation of a long-term contract between the Saints and Graham. Much like the Saints’ negotiations with Drew Brees two years ago—also involving a franchise tag dispute, resolved in Brees’ favor—my sense is that this episode is also heading for a deadline deal in mid-July, no matter the result of the tag dispute.

And therein lies the power of the franchise tag. At either number, it gives the Saints leverage. Despite high one-year earnings, Graham wants security; he wants the Saints to marry him, not just date him year-to-year.

Beyond this short-term dispute, the Saints will probably operate in the same manner as they did with Brees in 2012: wait until the July 15 deadline approaches and then make their best offer. And although an offer with perhaps $20-25 million guaranteed might not meet Graham’s desired $30-plus million guaranteed, he would be hard-pressed to turn down that level of security compared to one-year earnings at either number.

But, you ask, won’t a higher tag amount provide Graham more leverage in negotiations? Maybe, but probably not a lot assuming Graham prefers a long-term deal over the one-year placeholder. Further, assuming a long-term deal is negotiated, the “new money” will be calculated minus the tag amount and will actually look more player-friendly coming off the lower tag.

Ultimately, this dispute is not about a tag number, it is about a long-term deal. And my sense is, no matter the winner of this short-term dispute, Graham and the Saints will consummate a deeper commitment closer to the July 15 deadline for doing so.

Follow the (long-term) money.

mmqb-end-slug-square

33 comments
Sportsredo
Sportsredo

According to DC sports talk, as of this morning, Graham's own Twitter account labeled HIMSELF as a TE.  He night be a good football player, but his common sense is definitely lacking. I'm sure the NFL and Saints have screen shots of  his account add of this AM.  Stupid, stupid stupid!!!  

abbott1jeff
abbott1jeff

Anyone realize why going to a game is major financial expense now? Let's just overpay all of them and NFL will end up on pay per view for pete's sake...What, his agent doesn't have enough homes with big pools or Mercedes Benz' in the garage?  I love football,always have, but there has to be limitations as to what the pay is....Greed,Greed,Greed and more Greed.....I mean there are NBA players making $20 million a year that couldn't work at McDonald's if they don't play basketball,never mind spell it correctly....all for entertainment's sake....

gary41
gary41

The money argument is simple.  Both the market & the rules tell us a receiver is more valuable than a blocker, but this is about the definition of a position.  He is neither a TE nor a WR, but a hybrid.  Officially he is a TE, but he is mostly used as a receiver.  He will win in arbitration & eventually get paid for what he does on the field.  Bigger & faster is creating more hybrid players on both offense & defense.        

Ciscos
Ciscos

Jimmy Graham is a tight end that was used in the slot. That doesn't make him a WR... If I'm in the slot and my job is to crack back on the DE on a sweep, that doesn't make me a tackle.  Duh.


Simplified for those that need it simplified.

Pat11
Pat11

7 million as TE tag, how is he gonna feed his family. He will make more in the first 4 games next year than the average American will make in a lifetime.

tonyofanfield
tonyofanfield

tagging is stupid. a free agent is a free agent. period. he should be able to go to whichever team he wants.

dennis
dennis

No problem, just find another Saints receiver who lined up at tight end more often than Graham did. That player will be the designated Saints tight end.

SDCardsFan64
SDCardsFan64

Label him a WR and have him compete with all the other WRs for All-Pro honors.

Whosatamus
Whosatamus

In interpreting the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement I believe that the quotations in the section regarding Graham's position are misplaced. The important language is "at the position". Obviously the Saints position is that the tight end's position varies depending on the match up they are trying to take advantage of on a particular play, much the same as they do with running backs and wide receivers.

eddie767
eddie767

All of this wouldn't be a problem, if the NFL hadn't agreed to playing time stipulations. By rule, Graham should be tagged as WR, but Saints thought he'd agree to TE. Now, the team will suffer either way 1)WR tag = players cut 2) TE tag = unhappy Graham and Brees.

Rayelian
Rayelian

I am studying Law in Germany so my approach might not be the right one... but why is the NFL making the argument that Jimmy Graham is doing something that no other WR is doing? He is taking 33% (or whatever the number is) next to the O-Line. That is not something a WR does... so instead of arguing about the similarities to a WR why is there no spotlight on the differences?

mgranadosv
mgranadosv

Just line him up 51% as TE with New Orleans new passing options or design routes where he starts as a TE and shifts to a more traditional WR route. It's not like Sean Payton can't come up with that.

ea10
ea10

What this is going to lead to is teams (at least those with heavy handed owners) changing the way they line up and run plays. A player like Graham/Gronk/Davis (or a Sproles/Woodhead type RB) may lineup wide to create a specific matchup, but they'll motion them toward the LOS so they're not "wideouts" at the snap.

As the other poster alluded to: where does this stop?

What if you have a safety that is also your nickel corner? An OLB that has his hand in the dirt on passing downs? Is he a DE now? What about your third tackle that only checks in to be a 4th TE or FB? Should he be paid as a an offensive skill player?

DAN B1
DAN B1

Easy way to fix this.  Whatever position you play more at is your designation.  67% WR versus 33% TE


He is by definition a wideout.  

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

One thing MMQB readers can routinely count on with Andrew Brandt is a well-balanced, thoughtful analysis without any bias for or against the players and/or the league.Rather than telling his readers what to think here, he sets out both sides of the argument and invites them to think for themselves and reach their own conclusions.Well done, Mr. Brandt.

In my judgment, Jimmy Graham is entitled to franchise tag money as a tight end, and not as a wide receiver.While the arbitrator should certainly weigh the relevant language in CBA Article 10, Section 2(a)(i), he shouldn’t be constrained by it when determining the appropriate franchise tag calculation.Instead, common sense and the rule of reason should ultimately prevail here.If Graham is truly a wide receiver, then why is it that the number of wide receivers who similarly line up at tight end are scarcer than hen’s teeth?If Graham wants to get paid as an elite wide receiver, does he really have the acceleration, speed, agility, and quickness of one?Furthermore, how does he perform against corner coverage?Ask the Patriots corners who covered Graham in last year’s matchup and held him to zero receptions with one pick.

If the player “walks”—relatively speaking, of course—and plays like a tight end, and talks like a wide receiver, then he’s a tight end.Substantively speaking, it shouldn’t matter where he lines up on a majority of the snaps.

donald5
donald5

So can a linebacker who was in coverage against him now be considered a CB?

tailgateheaven
tailgateheaven

It seems that due to the constantly-rising number of loopholes and generalities in this last CBA, this won't be the last challenge of its kind. This last CBA has gradually taken the identity of "common law" practices,  and eventually will appear to become a constantly evolving document, developed over time. We're going to need a Wapner!

Mike26
Mike26

@gary41 I hope you're wrong about Graham winning.  It sets a horrible precedent.

Matt16
Matt16

@Rayelian I think the big question should be why hasn't the NFL realized it's system is completely broken by hybrid players and players who can play multiple positions?

Rayelian
Rayelian

It should've read "why isn't the NFL making the argument...." Sorry about that. :)

Matt16
Matt16

@mgranadosv No matter how you slice it, the tag system is broken with hybrid players. 

John4
John4

@ea10 You may have missed the point that this is an issue only for players who might be franchised.  A third tackle will not be franchised.  A nickel corner will not be franchised.  This issue is only an issue when players like Graham believe that they function as a higher priced player (or position) yet have their franchise value determined at the lower pay scale of a different position.  

Matt16
Matt16

@DAN B1 Honestly I think they should pro rate it....give him 67% of the WR money and 33% of the TE $ and add them together.  

The system is broken as is.  I guess it would make sense if it was uniform and just wrong....but they have OL as a group (last time I checked all OL tags were based off nothing but LTs salary)  while DE and DT is split into different groups (most are pass rush specialist DEs the tag is based off)....which doesn't make sense because in a 3-4 the strong side DE is technically called the DT in most schemes if you want me to get you good and confused and break the tag system down.

You have the RB tag which includes the FB position....and no clue what the H-Back position is...like Kleinsaucer who lined up as a FB and a TE...if he wears #44 is he a RB or a TE for franchise purposes?  He could be either with that number...and if he is listed as a FB/TE on the roster....what do you do? 


That brings me to LBs...they are one group, and in a 4-3 that kind of makes sense....but in a 3-4 the RUSH or JACK LB is technically your pass rush specialist and more or less a DE....but since pass rush is paid more you would have to pay your WILL, MIKE, and SAM LBs the average of the pass rushers since that is what gets the big contracts. 


Now to make things even more confusing they did however decide it was important enough in the secondary to separate the S and the CB position....the difference there is 3m.  So no CB in the final year of his contract would ever play S.....and if I were an aging CB no chance I switch for the current team if I think they will franchise me.  Now I also saw someone above mention what if the backup FS ends up as your Nickel DB or you even bring out another S to fill in for him while he is covering the Slot?  

They need a better system of labeling or at the very least do something like I stated above and depending on the amount of times they line up at the positions is what they end up getting....but that also would end up with tight owners dictating how the coaches line their players up.  


Matt16
Matt16

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan So if you think Graham deserves only TE money: 

-What would you think of a CB that converted to S due to an injury?

-What about a backup LT that played Guard (yes I know the OL franchise tag number for OL is the same across the board, but that means the system is broken to begin with since a C is getting LT money)

-What about a DE that moves to RUSH OLB with a scheme change coming?  

-What about a DE in a 3-4 on the strong side which is labeled a DT?



I don't have a concrete answer, but you can't say that the positions that Graham plays is the same as a TE that is left in to block the majority of the time.  Much like you said that he wasn't a WR for the reasons you stated also means that just because they slapped a TE position on him in the media guide doesn't mean he isn't a WR. 

Matt16
Matt16

@donald5 Technically the LB in coverage would be more S than CB in the tag system. 

John4
John4

@Matt16 Pro rating the franchise tag is a very intelligent idea.  

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