The New Orleans Saints say Jimmy Graham is a tight end. Graham says he should be paid like a wide receiver.
Now, the players' union is throwing its weight behind Graham in his fight over the Saints placing the franchise tag on Graham — as a tight end, which pays far less — according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero.
Graham's camp assert that even though he is listed on the team's roster as a tight end (and has been voted to Pto Bowls at the position), the role he plays in the team's offense is more like that of a wide receiver, with about two-thirds of his snaps coming detached from the line — either in the slot or out wide.
Graham was set to hit free agency this offseason before the Saints tagged him. The difference between the one-year tenders (which are calulated based on the average of the top five players at each position) of wide receiver and tight end is more $5 million. At tight end, Graham would make a one-year salary of $7.0 million if he signed his tender; as a wide receiver, he'd be due about $12.3 million.
There is precedence for such a grievance being filed and settled. Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs was tagged as a linebacker in 2008, but his agent claimed he was a defensive end, which earns a higher salary. The case was settled with a meet in the middle, but the difference in that case was about $800,000.
The gap in the Graham case is clearly much wider, and there's no indication it will be solved anytime soon. No word on when the grievance might be heard by a third-party arbitrator.
The big question is, why did it take the NFLPA so long to get into the ring on this one? The union doesn't typically back down from fights with the league, and when one of their high-profile players has made his unhappiness for the past two months, one would think they'd get involved earlier. We don't know if Graham or his agent reached out to the NFLPA for assistance on this, but you'd imagine they would not push them away at all.
Graham might have a leg to stand on in this fight. Per the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) states:
"The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position (within the categories set forth in Section 7(a) below) at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year …"
Graham has been a huge part of the Saints' offense the past four seasons, catching 41 touchdowns passes and averaging just fewer than 1,000 yards per season. They want him signed to a long-term deal, and team leaders such as Drew Brees have stated just how important Graham is to the operation.
But the two sides have to clear this pretty big hurdle, you'd think, before there is anymore serious talk about a contract extension.
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