Thanks to news originally broken by Ian Rapoport, we now know that Jimmy Graham has officially been ruled as a tight end by a third party arbitrator for the franchise tag purposes. This means that Graham’s franchise tender will remain at the one year price of $7.035 million instead of jumping to over $12 million in line with a receiver franchise tag. The biggest question that always surrounded this complicated ruling was: what position was a player lined up in the slot playing? Graham played over 50% of his snaps in the 2013 season outside of the tackle box, but a majority of those were in the slot and not out wide.
Per the ruling, anything within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage will still deemed to be within the confines of a tight end’s responsibility:
Burbank ruled that Graham was a TE b/c his majority of snaps taken within 4 yards of the offensive line. That 4 yards = another precedent.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 2, 2014
This means Graham was fulfilling his duty as a tight end by lining up in the slot, according to the arbitrator, Stephen Burbank. Burbank also noted in his ruling that Graham labelled himself as a tight end in his social media biographies which he has control over. That sets a major precedent moving forward for players such as Vernon Davis, Eric Ebron, and others who were all no doubt watching this case very closely. Ultimately this just gives the Saints a bit more leverage in an end game that almost assuredly features a long term deal between the two sides. But this will likely squash elite tight ends from seeking wide receiver money moving forward. The Saints and Graham have until July 15th to reach a long term deal or the only recourse will be the one year franchise tender. Graham has 10 days to appeal this decision, which would be heard by a three person arbitration panel. No word yet if Graham will appeal this decision.
This ordeal is complicated because the impact is multi-faceted. First there’s the reality of a ~$5 million difference in the value of the one year franchise tag. It also plays into the framework of any long term deal. More globally this decision affects all receiving tight ends financially moving forward, and it can be viewed as a loss for both the NFLPA and any “hybrid” player that is viewed as a “tweener” between two positions on the field based on one’s role having versatile usage. The ruling is a big win for the owners, the league and the Saints more specifically, especially given their current tight salary cap situation.