Arbitrator rules Saints’ Jimmy Graham is a tight end
(AP) — The Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the NFL Players Association were dealt a setback Wednesday when an arbitrator ruled that he can only be considered a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag designation.
NFLPA had filed a grievance arguing that Graham was used as a wide receiver often enough to qualify for the more lucrative receiver tag. But arbitrator Stephen Burbank disagreed and now the NFLPA is reviewing his ruling, and will advise Graham on his options, which could include an appeal.
Graham’s case is being closely watched around the league because it could set a precedent for negotiations involving players who fill diverse roles in their teams’ offensive or defensive schemes. For example, some outside linebackers in a 3-4 defensive scheme could argue their right to receive the higher defensive end tag.
NFL franchise tags, which allow each team to keep one prized player who is due to become a free agent, were set this year at $7 million for tight ends and $12.3 million for receivers.
Burbank, who is also a University of Pennsylvania law professor, found that Graham could fulfill the standard duties of a tight end when he was lined up in the slot or within 4 yards of an offensive tackle, as he was for most of his snaps.
Burbank further pointed out that defenses usually accounted for Graham as a tight end, regardless of his alignment, by assigning a linebacker or safety to cover him.
“Like tight ends, wide receivers and running backs often line up in the slot,” Burbank’s ruling stated. “The defense employed against any player so aligned turns on the player’s position, not his alignment, because of the physical attributes and skill sets of the players in those positions.”
Burbank indicated there could be merit to the NFLPA contention that Graham cannot be considered a tight end when he does in fact line up as a wideout. However, because both sides stipulated that Graham lined up within 4 yards of an offensive tackle for nearly 55 percent of his snaps, Burbank said he did not need to address the minority of instances in which offensive formations employed by Saints coach Sean Payton placed Graham at a wider distance from the offensive line.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement states that franchise tags should be applied according to the position at which a player lines up for the majority of his snaps.