New York, NY, United States (4E Sports) – An arbitrator declared that New Orleans Saints’ star Jimmy Graham is a tight end despite lining up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last year.
In a groundbreaking decision, Stephen Burbank denied Graham’s request to officially be declared a wide receiver under the NFL’s franchise-tag rules.
Burbank sided with the New Orleans Saints and the NFL Management Council, saying that the tight end position has always involved a combination of splitting out wide to run pass routes and staying in to block — especially in today’s modern passing offenses.
Graham and the NFL Players Association can appeal the decision within 10 days to a three-member appeals panel.
In the meantime, the Saints will not have to increase their one-year tender offer of $7.053 million to Graham. The receiver tender would have cost them $12.132 million.
With the franchise grievance nearing a conclusion, the two sides can now focus on setting their own value for Graham in long-term contract talks. The deadline for signing long-term deals with franchised players is July 15.
“The NFLPA will review with Jimmy Graham the decision from Arbitrator Stephen Burbank which permits the player to be designated as a tight end for Franchise Tag purposes. We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter,” the NFLPA said in a statement.
“We will also continue to assist Graham and his representation as necessary to help the player reach a fair long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints,” the association added.
Graham will still almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million per year that Rob Gronkowski received in a 2012 extension with the New England Patriots. However, it will be harder for Graham to approach something in the $12 million-per-year range now.
The Saints have leverage because they could potentially lock up Graham for two straight years with the franchise tag at costs of $7.053 million this year and $8.46 million in 2015 — though Graham obviously could refuse to sign the tenders and hold out of training camp.
Graham has led the NFL with 36 touchdown catches over the past three years. He has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per year over that span.