Future HOF TE Tony Gonzalez Believes Position-Based Pay Is Backward

Former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is widely credited with helping to revolutionize the position, incorporating it more into the production of the offensive machine, rather than as an extension of the offensive line. Consequently, he holds, or has held, just about every conceivable tight end record of meaning.

One would think, then, that he sympathizes with the battle that New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is fighting when it comes to positional pay.

Spoiler alert: he does.

Strongly, in fact. He argues that the NFL’s pay scales are backward, pointing that the other major leagues in North America don’t have pay scales based on position the way there is in professional football.

Gonzalez argues that tight end compensation is discriminatory, and that player pay “should be set based on production and contributions, not positions”.

His argument certainly appears to make a great deal of sense on the surface, and is no doubt right, in essence. But is there a certain level of reality to the slotted, position-based scale of financial compensation unique to the game of football?

In most other sports, it seems, there is a more equitable opportunity for a player of any position to excel and take a game over. In baseball, for example, most everybody steps up to the plate. In basketball, as in hockey, anybody can shoot the puck.

In football, the quarterback is in control of every play. Sure, there is a point guard in basketball, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the control of a quarterback.

On defense, certain positions are more prone to producing ‘splash plays’ such as sacks and turnovers. Accordingly, they’re often rewarded with the highest contracts.

Once upon a time, as mentioned, the tight end wasn’t often much more than just an extension of the offensive line. The tight end was just a slighter tackle that could sometimes catch the ball. There have been exceptions throughout history, but there hasn’t been so dynamic a shift in the way that tight ends are used until recent years.

Many of Gonzalez’s tight end records rival the greatest of wide receiver records. Yards, receptions, touchdowns. Compare his numbers to the wide receivers in the Hall of Fame, and you’ll see that he was a pass catcher. He put himself in the position to be an impact player that was uncommon at the time for tight ends.

This was something that he was aware of during his playing career. It’s why he held out of training camp over a decade ago, in 2001, when he was given the franchise tag, which resulted in a then record-setting contract for tight ends.

If Graham intends to continue his fight, then he’s got just about the best ambassador for his cause that you could ask for. Graham may not hold out, but there’s a pretty good chance that he’s about to become the highest-paid tight end in the history of the game, and one of the most highly compensated pass catchers in the league.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • CrazyTerry

    THe guy is right on the money. Why the Steelers haven’t gone after the Gronkowski , Graham type TEs is utter madness when you have a QB like Ben who can buy time and spot that TE for a good mid range pass. Imagine having Heath and a big athletic TE as a tandem. That is more dangerous than stockpiling a million WRs.Just going after a tall WR is not enough. You need to go after those Chicago/Denver type WRs who are halfway to being TEs anyway.

  • Jeff

    If Jimmy wants to get paid like a wide receiver, then why doesn’t he switch positions to wide receiver?


    Tony G is right on certain points but not on others. Regardless of where they line up TEs are most often targeted between the hash marks…Cutting out contact above the shoulders has opened up the middle of the field big time the last 3 to 4 years…thus TEs have become a much bigger part of the OFC if you have “that” guy.

    This is where I kind of part ways with him on the WR issue…TEs are most often defended by a LB…sometimes a S….they’re bigger than most CBs, but they’re never going up against the #1 or even #2 CB. Because you’re split out wide doesn’t make you a WR…just a smart OC creating a mismatch.

    Finally…I’m with him on the production part, but what about a very good blocking TE like a Heath Miller…they don’t get paid like OTs, yet they are doing similar work…”production” can be slanted both ways.


    Yep…drop 20 lbs and see if he can put up Megatron like #s while being defended by a #1 CB.


    It would’ve been really interesting to see how Colbert would’ve gone if Shazier and Ebron were both on the board…I think they have a potential gem in Bryant…I saw most of Damarius Thomas college career @ Tech and Bryant is a lot like him, but faster…if he WANTS to be a great player and takes to coaching well, I see him being the #2 WR next year with Wheaton as the slot…coupled with Miller/Bell/Archer…Ben’s last stretch run could include another SB.

  • Jeff

    I tried to reply several times. There’s something wrong with my account


    My point exactly…They’re just looking at stats…not the whole picture…What’s wrong with being the highest paid TE? Shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.

  • AzheDraven

    I don’t like Jimmy. That being said, I think he is worth a lot of money but not WR money. Not even Gronk type money. To me, Gronk is the standard. If he had good luck and could stay healthy, he would be the best. He can block, he can catch and he can keep on moving with 2-3 defenders trying to tackle him. Jimmy can’t block, and isn’t the same as Gronk. He is just a product of mismatching. If he wants WR money he should switch to WR and face #1 CBs. And he tends to disappear. Just remember the playoff match vs Seattle. I think his first pass was on the second half. And he didn’t do anything. That’s him without mismatching.
    And the saints are offering him probably a good contract, team friendly, to keep winning because if I remember correctly, they don’t have a lot of cap space. If he just wants the money, why not accept the franchise tag and go to the biggest bidder like Wallace did.
    And Gonzalez has a good point, but that disappear on the playoff game has to hit hard jimmy on the contract negotiations. Why pay so much if he’s going to disappear when it matters?

  • Never really cared for Jimmy Graham. He’s the one who cried about the league’s decision to ban dunking on the field goal post. But then he was the one who hung onto the post in Atlanta and messed it up, delaying the game. I think that was ignorant of him and I’ve not really cared for him since. I think the NFL’s pay scale by position is fair enough to the point where there aren’t too many complaints by the players. He’s a mismatch problem at TE, not a WR. If he was a WR, other teams would use their personnel accordingly and shut him down.

  • patrick Mayfield

    His argument is not right in essence at all. Just because a GM tells him he’s slotting by position during negotiations doesn’t mean it’s true. If he doesn’t like the offer don’t sign it.

    What’s backwards about market based pay? Does he want the #1 TE to be payed the same as a #1 punter? If the value in top TE is there, then teams will outbid each other for them. His original column is on CBS sports website incidentally. It’s mostly in relation to his contract negotiations and not much about the franchise numbers. What you could say is a little screwy about the franchise #’s is that they’re based on the top 5 salaries at a position and teams have a lot more WR than TE so the top 5 is a more elite gathering in a relative sense.