Stephen Burbank was scheduled to give attention arguments on Tuesday from the NFL Management Council and NFLPA to determine if New Orleans Saints Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham should be officially identified as a tight end or wide receiver. A long-term deal must be agreed upon before the July 15 deadline, otherwise Graham can play under a one-year deal this season and then go on to test the free-agent market in 2015.
If Graham is victorious in the hearing, he will be labeled as a wide receiver and the Saints will be required to pay him $12.3 million under the one-year franchise tag instead of roughly $7 million. The best scenario for both sides would be to strike a long-term deal by meeting somewhere in the middle around $10.5 million per year.
Both sides of the hearing do have a legitimate argument, but Saints GM Mickey Loomis believes the ruling will pan out in favor of the team. Graham spent a majority of his snaps lined up as a wideout, but was also used on the line as an eligible receiver and blocker. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers that will be the centerpiece of this debate.
WR Snaps- 586, TE Snaps- 291
WR Snap PCT- 67 percent, TE Snap PCT- 33 percent
WR Rec- 68, TE Rec- 18
WR Yards- 838, TE Yards- 377
WR TDs- 12, TE TDs- four
Numbers don’t lie, but you can’t expect a wide receiver to line up next to an offensive tackle for 33 percent of the team’s snaps. If he did, would you pay him less? No, because it wouldn’t happen anyway. Receivers are not capable of playing on the inside like that, and that is why Loomis has no worries.
“Isn’t that what we drafted him as?” Loomis said. “Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as, a tight end. That’s what makes him valuable.”
I couldn’t have said it better, Mr. Loomis. Tony Gonzales was used the same way with the Atlanta Falcons, but that didn’t cause any problems. In fact, it caused quite the opposite. There is no telling how long it will be before a final decision is made, but based on past arbitration hearings, a week or so looks to be realistic.
This debacle has been nothing but a distraction to coaches, teammates and even the fans. The Black and Gold had an outstanding offseason and look to be Super Bowl contenders this year, but this Jimmy Graham problem needs to be solved.
His absence at training camp is likely the scenario, which may actually be better for the Saints right now. At this point, an off-field distraction is better than an on-field one. Regardless, he is a vital part of that high-powered offense and needs to remain in the Big Easy for the long haul.