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Jimmy Graham Arbitration Simplified

Lots of people have been asking me about Jimmy Graham’s situation so I’ll try to paint as clear of a picture as possible. Today starts his arbitration hearing. Jimmy Graham is franchise tagged as a tight end. His camp is arguing that he should be tagged as a receiver. A one year franchise tag for a tight end is worth $7.035 million and the tag for a receiver is $12.132 million. So we’re talking about a $5.097 million difference, it’s significant.

We’ve all viewed Graham as a tight end until now but this is where the CBA gets tricky. It states that a player will be franchised “at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.” Graham lines up in the slot and out wide a good bit, traditionally a spot where a receiver would line up. Graham lined up out wide or in the slot about 67% of the time in 2013, so if you’re looking for a black and white argument the Graham camp has a strong one. The Saints are lining him up off the line of scrimmage more often than not. Two thirds of the time, to be exact.

Of course, this is really all about leverage. Jimmy Graham doesn’t want to get franchise tagged at either position really and he doesn’t want to be on a one year contract. Being tagged as a receiver, though, gives him more ammo in negotiations to push for a bigger long term deal. As things stand the Saints would have to do something financially to cushion the blow of a franchise tag hike.

Larry Holder wrote a great article about why Jimmy Graham should not be viewed as a receiver and I think the statistics he comes up with are awesome. But this article misses the point of the language. It doesn’t matter who is covering him or what kind of success he had against that coverage. What matters is where he is lined up, per the CBA.

So the real question here is: is lining up in the slot exclusively the role of wide receiver? That’s where I take issue. Forget that Jimmy Graham lists himself as a tight end on twitter or that he made the Pro Bowl as a tight end, I think the heart of this issue is what you consider the slot. Is the slot only a place where a “wide receiver” goes, or is being in the slot part of the definition of a modern day tight end? There’s no question that being out wide makes you a wide receiver, but I’ve seen tight ends, running backs and H-backs line up in the slot before. I think that’s where the black and white argument becomes gray. If the arbitration process keeps him franchised as a tight end, Graham’s attempts at negotiating a salary increase take a hit.

We’ll soon find out.