Jimmy Graham’s Franchise Tag Arbitration Brings Up Questions About Position

Earlier this week, an arbitrator ruled that New Orleans Saints “pass catcher” Jimmy Graham is indeed a tight end, and not a wide receiver, as he attempted to argue.

The purpose of the challenge was to contend that the Saint’s franchise tag placed upon him was undervalued, because the value of the franchise tag for a wide receiver is significantly greater than that of a tight end, to the tune of some $5 million.

Graham argued that within the offense, he was primarily used as a wide receiver, and thus his franchise tag should reflect that. Pro Football Focus claims that Graham played 587 snaps last season as a wide receiver, as opposed to 292 as a tight end. He was split wide on 191 occasions and in the slot 396 times.

The arbitrator argued, however, that he trains and prepares as a tight end and with the tight ends, attending the tight end meeting rooms and learning the tight end craft, even if he ultimately serves more of a wide receiver role in the offense.

It was also argued that defenses play him as they would most other tight ends, being covered primarily by safeties and linebackers rather than by cornerbacks. His defensive coverage involved a cornerback only about 30 percent of the time.

Others have also argued that it would not be in the best interests of the organization to consider Graham a wide receiver because his performance as a pass catcher when defended by cornerbacks is below average. I have not looked into that claim, nor does it seem relevant to the actual determination of position.

The compelling arguments, to me, are the fact that he trains and prepares as a tight end and that teams generally defend him as a tight end. However, I concede that given his usage, a sound argument can be made either way.

The topic raises broader questions about the employment of the franchise tag, however. For example, what about players who truly have multiple positions?

When does a safety become a cornerback? New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle has frequently played cornerback over the years, often for injury purposes, for his team. Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Carnell Lake has played cornerback due to injury as well.

If they’d been franchised following those seasons during which they primarily played cornerback, would they be tagged as a cornerback? Could they make that argument?

What about Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals? The veteran tackle moved to guard because of injuries last year. If he were a free agent, could the Bengals try to tag him as a guard—and could they win? Could Alan Faneca have done the opposite the year he played tackle instead of guard because of injuries?

What about a player such as former Giant David Diehl, who had moved all over the line wherever he was needed, between both guard and tackle? What would weigh heaviest: where he played last, or where he was expected to play? These circumstances all present an interesting knot that the arbitration process may one day be asked to untie.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Matt Manzo

    I like what Olsen, from CAR, said! TE is one of the most difficult positions on the team.
    I believe CB and TE are the most trying jobs in the nfl. It takes a special guy to master those positions and it’d be disrespectful to the position to call yourself a WR.
    If he wants WR money, ask for it in the contract.

  • Steelers12328882

    Players don’t get paid for how they practice. They get paid for how they perform on the field, and that to me is the most compelling argument. If he’s lining up at WR most of the time then that means he’s more of a WR then a TE. Who cares who’s covering him. I’ll have to side with Graham on this one, but it’s a tough topic to get into, and I’m sure the arbitrators ruled against him just so they didn’t have to open a can of worms.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Interesting. The NFL thinks you should get paid based on your degree instead of your job.

    The arbitrator is a criminal. You could argue he might be really stupid but with other smart people in the room explaining things in great detail it isn’t possible to to not get it on that level. You don’t get to determine someone job by looking at what someone else does to respond. He is playing a position that they call WR. The only reason they call those guys WR’s is because they play that position. They don’t define a WR as someone defended by a CB. There isn’t a WR genetic profile. You don’t get paid in any other aspect of the NFL based on your study group.

    The fact that he is a big WR means the defense has to use a bigger player to defend him. The reason they play him at WR is to force the defense to adjust.

    This country has really gotten carried away with the idea that it’s OK to lie on any level and with any repercussions. These people get elected, reelected, hired and promoted regardless of lies, graft or moral abomination. The news presents both sides fairly as though it could possibly start raining cats and dogs.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Personally, I feel bad for Graham. He practically IS the Saints’ offense outside of Brees. And how does his team repay him for being one of the most dominant offensive weapons in the NFL? They low-ball him. The Saints could franchise him two years in a row and let him walk to the highest bidder after that…all the while letting Jimmy be at risk of injury with no security. That’s bad business.

    On the other side of things, the Lions did right by Calvin Johnson by paying him for the player that he is. They recognized him as the game’s best WR, and they knew they were lucky to have him. If I were Jimmy Graham, I’d be upset, too.

  • Bill

    Some of the comments to this article are really interesting; such as ” The NFL thinks you should get paid based on your degree instead of your job.” Companies pay professions according to their job titles and their salary must be within the range defined by those titles. The better performers in that job title get paid near the top of the range. In order to earn more than that range you must be promoted to a higher earning job tittle. Graham’s job title is Tight End and therefore he’s paid as one. If you think he is a wide receiver, take a look the Seattle game film and you’ll quickly see he’s no wide receiver and therefore should not be promoted to that level.! The Saints could not pay him wide receiver money and would likely release him if forced to. This guy would not earn wide receiver money on the open market unless somebody is optically deficient. There is a salary cap in this league and the fact is you cannot pay everybody top money.

  • Steelers12328882

    Although I agree with you about the degree comment, that’s the whole point of the arbitration. He wants a new job title lol. Call him a TE all you want, and I could care less about one game, but as a whole he played 587 snaps at WR last year either in the slot or split out wide. That’s 67%. The whole problem is that’s he’s being franchised and that’s a big deal when there’s a 5 mil difference. I think you’re wrong too. In the open market he WOULD get WR money. Not top WR money, but he’d do a lot better than what he’s getting with that franchise tag.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Wonder how Dri Archer will get paid if he is both a RB and WR for us

  • Matthew Marczi

    I would argue that simply lining up in a certain position doesn’t make you a wide receiver either. It’s only becoming more and more common for tight ends to line up in the slot. Does that mean that tight ends are becoming wide receivers or that what it is to be a tight end is changing?

  • Eric MacLaurin

    You can argue it but on what grounds? Other than saving 5 mil I can’t think of any reason to call him a TE if he usually plays WR.

    I would say that when someone plays a position that is what they “are” You should either be considered a hybrid, both or whichever position you played most often.

  • Bill

    I want to be clear about this: Jimmy Graham plays some great football and It is not my intent to say otherwise. I’m sure the Saints would have given him a contract more to his liking if they weren’t so hard against the cap. Because one lines up wide does not make him a wide receiver. Usually he’s covered by linebackers and does well against them. However, he struggled when covered by corner backs. This guy is not Fitzgerald, Brown, Megatron, Green, Jeffery, Bryant et al. He is a superior pass catching non blocking TE. As far as the rules that determine franchising pay levels; no rule that you could pen up would solve all scenarios. As time goes by, TE salaries will change and so will the related franchise tag amounts. Successful teams will pay according to value and not some pre-determined schedule. In many cases as in this one, the CAP will rear it’s ugly head!

  • Steve

    What if Adams lines up a bunch of times at TE. Should he be paid as a TE ?

  • Steelers12328882

    One rule would solve all scenarios. Get rid of franchise and transition tags. The players hate them, and as a fan I wouldn’t mind seeing them gone, although we’d probably lose a guy like Worilds from time to time.

  • Steelers12328882