Stephen Burbank was scheduled to hear arguments on Tuesday from the NFL Management Council and NFL Players Association to determine if New Orleans Saints‘ Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham should be officially classified as a tight end or wide receiver. A long-term deal must be agreed upon before July 15, 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 wins 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 a rough sum of $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 New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis believes the ruling will pan out in favor of the Saints. 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.
TE Snaps- 291, WR Snaps- 586
TE Snap PCT- 33%, WR Snap PCT- 67%
TE Rec- 18, WR Rec- 68
TE Yards- 377, WR Yards- 838
TE TDs- 4, WR TDs- 12
Numbers don’t lie, but you can’t expect a wide receiver to line up next to an offensive tackle 33 percent of the year. 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 Mickey Loomis has no worries. “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. 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 — no problem there. 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 a realistic time frame.
This debacle has been nothing but an aggravating 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, which may actually be better for New Orleans 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 a Saint for the long haul.