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Breaking Down Jimmy Graham's Franchise Tag Dispute

by Photo of Sam Cohen

Is Jimmy Graham a tight end or a wide receiver? We discuss the ongoing dispute.

Breaking Down Jimmy Graham's Franchise Tag Dispute

In this article…


The New Orleans Saints and star player Jimmy Graham could not come to an agreement on a long-term extension over the winter, so the team used the franchise tag on Graham. This means that Graham is signed to a one-year contract worth maximum dollar value for his position. However, there is a question of what position Jimmy Graham plays. The Saints claim he is a tight end while Graham and his camp believe that he is a wide receiver. The franchise tag amount for tight ends is about $7 million while the franchise tag for wide receivers is over $12 million. The disagreement between the two sides has led to an arbitration hearing this week.

This is an extremely important issue for a few reasons. There are obviously millions of dollars on the line and one side's feelings will be hurt no matter what. That could obviously lead to some tension between the two if/when the sides meet to discuss a long term contract. More importantly for the league as a whole, if Jimmy Graham wins the arbitration hearing, tight ends who specialize as pass-catchers will then technically be considered wide receivers. This means that if teams want to apply the franchise tag to these types of players, they will have to pay millions more than they would've before. 

So with all of those things on the line, let's take a look at each side's case.

Graham's Argument

According to ESPN, Graham played 33% of his snaps out of the typical tight end position, while lining up at a wide receiver position, whether it be in the slot or out wide, 67% of the time. If he plays wide receiver more than he plays tight end, shouldn't he be considered a wide receiver? The franchise tag is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.” Since Graham spent the majority of his time at wide receiver positions, he believes he is a wide receiver.

Saints/NFL Argument

The Saints and the NFL believe that Graham is a tight end for a few reasons. His twitter bio says that he is a tight end, he attends the tight end meetings, and as Saints general manager Micky Loomis put it: "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end." 

The NFL will also surely show Graham videos of other big, strong, athletic tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis. These players move out to wide receiver positions to create matchup problems for defenses due to their strength and size. The Saints and the NFL will argue that these players are considered tight ends that play a lot at wide receiver positions due to offensive schemes.

Who is right?

Both sides make very compelling arguments and this will be a lengthy process, but I believe that the Saints and the NFL will win this one. Graham may line up in the slot and out wide at a high rate, but the tight end position is changing nowadays. Tight ends are becoming more and more athletic and while in-line blocking tight ends will always be used, athletic, pass-catching tight ends are becoming the norm in the league.

He has also identified as a tight end for years now. Graham may deserve wide receiver money because he has been so dominant, but he is just a new-age tight end and should continue to identify himself as such.

No matter the outcome, this is a story that will certainly continue to unfold and one that must be watched closely. This could change the whole landscape of contracts in the NFL and how teams approach players like Graham in the future.

Who do you think is right? Let us know in the comments section!

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