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Saints Tight End Jimmy Graham Ruled A Tight End

Getty Images via Zimbio

Getty Images via Zimbio

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has been battling with the league to be reclassified as a wide receiver in order to gain a higher salary this season, having been slapped with the franchise tag. On Wednesday arbitrator Stephen Burbank denied his request, siding with the Saints and the NFL Management Council.

Graham’s argument was that he lined up in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of snaps last year, which was enough to technically qualify him as a receiver. The counterargument was that the tight end position has evolved in today’s NFL, but that it hasn’t fundamentally changed—meaning that Graham’s offensive production has absolutely no bearing on his position classification.

It was a huge financial blow for Graham, who would’ve earned $12.1 million if the ruling had been in his favor. Not that $7.1 million for a single season is anything to sneeze at, but that’s a pretty substantial gap between the two.

This situation certainly isn’t going to help the franchise tag’s reputation among players. Although it usually comes with a very general single-season salary, players loath it because it offers them no long-term protection and teams use it to put off negotiating long-term deal.

As it stands, there are few options to fight being franchised. Graham’s position grievance isn’t the first of its kind, but it was the first to reach the stage of an arbitrator. In 2008 there was a hearing held regarding Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs, and whether he should be considered a linebacker or a defensive end, but it was settled shortly after.

Graham and the NFL Players Association have 10 days to file an appeal with the three-member appeals panel. They may choose to appeal on principle, but with training camp rapidly approaching, Graham’s camp may decide time would be better spent trying to work out a deal.

The deadline for franchised players to sign a long-term deal is July 15th, which is less than two weeks away. Expect the two sides to come together over the next week and see how close they can get. If a deal looks unlikely this time next week, Graham wouldn’t have anything to lose by going forward with an appeal.

At that point, it would be his only course of action.

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