NFL Star Goes to Arbitration Over His Position

Football field, by flickr user nightthree, licensed by Creative Commons

Tight End or Wide Receiver?

A recent hearing may cause waves in the sports world, and it all comes down to where a player is standing when he takes the field. Jimmy Graham, whose position is listed at Tight End, is one of the best players in the National Football League. A perennial Pro-Bowl starter for the New Orleans Saints, the 6’7″ athletic freak continues to strike fear in the hearts of opposing teams. Under league rules, the Saints have enabled a “franchise tag”, which is a cap-room move designed to essentially pay a player a little less than he’s worth on a 1-year deal, which avoids offering a long-term big money contract. However, Graham recently filed a grievance against the league that has gone to arbitration.

So what’s the problem? The Saints list Graham as a Tight End (TE) on their official roster, but use him in offensive packages where he lines up as a Wide Receiver (WR). While this may seem like semantics, it turns out to be a monetary issue for Jimmy now that he has been tagged. In simple terms, the franchise tag takes the average of top players at their position and produces a number that usually satisfies the player. Unfortunately for Jimmy Graham (or for the Saints, depending on how this plays out), the difference between a TE contract and a WR contract is about $5 million. Graham, rightfully so, argues that since he lines up primarily as a Wide Receiver, that he deserves to be paid as such. He’s clearly an asset to the team and one of the best offensive players overall in the NFL, racking up 1,215 yards and 16 TD’s on 86 catches, which makes other TE’s (and an overwhelming majority of WR’s) look laughable in comparison.

Normally, this would seem to be another case of a greedy player trying to go after every last dollar they can. This situation comes down to $7.053 million vs $12.132 million based on a player’s “official” position. You really can’t blame Jimmy for going for it all. The NFL generates about $10 million worth of revenue now (and projects to hit $25 million by 2027), and the shelf-life of an NFL player is shrinking. If the Saints tag him at $7mm, and he suffers a serious injury, then they’ll either let him become a free agent next year (very unlikely), or use the injury as a reason to give him a much smaller contract than originally planned.  The arbitration case took an interesting late twist, as Graham was asked to pull up his own Twitter page, wherein he does list himself as a “TE”. We’ve all heard of famous figures and athletes making mistakes on social media, but there’s a good chance that could cost Graham $5m, which would leave him feeling pretty incomplete.

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