The New Orleans Saints are expected to use their franchise tag on star tight end Jimmy Graham before Monday’s deadline, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This begs the question: At what position will he be franchised?
The first position that likely comes to mind is tight end, which makes sense considering he was drafted as a tight end, looks like a tight end, and is considered the best tight end in the league. However, Graham’s agent has a differing perspective and for good reason. The franchise tag for tight ends is expected to be around $6.7 million this year while the franchise tag for wide receivers is expected to be $11.5 million, and thus, the battle begins as to what position Graham should be classified under.
In these situations both parties and the NFL arbitrator will look to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) for guidance. Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the CBA states, “The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position (within the categories set forth in Section 7(a) below) at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year” (emphasis added).
Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, are expected to file a grievance through the NFL Players’ Association. Their main argument in asking that Graham be considered a wide receiver is that he lined up out wide or in the slot for 67 percent of his snaps last year. Sounds like a wide receiver, right? The Saints, on the other hand, are adamant that Graham is a tight end. As general manager Mickey Loomis said recently, “Isn’t that what we drafted him as? Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as, a tight end.”
It is an interesting debate and one that will set precedent for future franchise tag disputes. Does the position a player lines up at matter more than his defined “position” on the roster? I would assume that the Saints will also argue that the tight end position has dramatically changed in the last few years and tight ends simply split out wide as receiver more often than they used to. The outcome of this matter will also have significant implications on negotiations for a long term deal for Graham because the franchise tag will set the rate at which the Saints could keep Graham. For example, if the franchise tag is $11.5 million this year, and the Saints wanted to tag Graham again in 2015, he would be paid $13.8 million (120% of his 2014 salary). On the other hand, if Graham was tagged as a tight end, his salary would be roughly $6.7 million this year, and if tagged again in 2015, $8.04 million. These tight end figures would be much easier for the Saints to swallow and would allow them to spend less in a long term deal. On the other hand, if Graham is found to be a wide receiver, this would create leverage for his agent to negotiate a more lucrative long term contract.
If you have any questions or comments about the situation, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.
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