Unable to reach a long-term contract extension with the New Orleans Saints, superstar Jimmy Graham is at an identity-crisis crossroads. The Saints are keen on slapping Graham with the franchise tag, which would lock him in to a one-year contract worth maximum dollar value for his position. But whether the massive pass-catcher should be considered a tight end or a wide receiver is a big determinant in how he will be paid in 2014.
In the grievance hearing that commenced Tuesday, one interesting takeaway dealt with how Graham's Twitter biography may play a role in determining his ultimate position.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport outlined the arguments presented by Graham and the NFLPA—and apparently, the way Graham identifies himself on social media could be a deal-breaker for the NFL:
Along with minicamp starting, today is Jimmy Graham’s system arbitration, barring compromise. Will he be tagged as a WR ($12M) or TE ($7M).— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014
Among @NFL’s arguments: Jimmy Graham meets in the TE room, lines up where TEs line up… and lists himself as a TE on Twitter (really).— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014
Among @NFLPA’s arguments: 67 percent of the time, Jimmy Graham lines up where a WR would line up. Union has expressed a lot of confidence— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014
Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated also weighed in, discussing Graham's snap counts and the implication is has for other cases such as this:
Jimmy Graham's grievance: positional snap counts will eventually, successfully, be currency in negotiations. Whether teams like it or not.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) May 7, 2014
Rapoport also talks about a potential settlement and how the two sides may proceed if a ruling is made:
A settlement in the Jimmy Graham system arbitration is unlikely, from what I’m told. Sounds like he’ll have his day(s) in court.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014
Whichever side in the Jimmy Graham system arbitration that doesn’t like the ruling can appeal to a 3-person Appeals Panel, per the CBA.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014
NFL.com's Gil Brandt provided more financial specifics regarding the hearing:
Millions at stake in Jimmy Graham grievance hearing next 2 days. TE number is $7.053M, WR $12,132M.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) June 16, 2014
For fantasy football enthusiasts, ESPN guru Matthew Berry has that angle covered in the event Graham gets his way:
Re: Jimmy Graham: If a player qualifies at a position, @ESPNFantasy does NOT take away eligibility. He's a TE. Maybe he adds WR but he's TE.— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) June 17, 2014
ESPN's Mike Triplett provided insight into the background of Stephen Burbank, the arbitrator who is leading Graham's hearing:
CBA system arbitrator Stephen Burbank will hear the Jimmy Graham grievance. The Penn law professor has heard several key #Saints cases ...— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) June 16, 2014
Burbank also ruled in #Saints QB Drew Brees' favor on franchise grievance in 2012 (saying he was a 2nd-time franchise player) ...— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) June 16, 2014
And Burbank ruled in NFL's favor, saying Goodell had authority to impose bounty sanctions against #Saints in 2012.— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) June 16, 2014
Based on Burbank's history with New Orleans, it seems as though an objective outcome can be expected. Framing evidence against Graham and using the way he presents himself as a tight end on such a public platform could create a compelling case in the NFL's favor, though.
If the grievance goes against Graham and the Twitter biography plays a significant role, players are bound to be even more cautious on social media. It will be interesting to see if Graham changes his description, too.
Graham certainly isn't the typical tight end, though that's the position New Orleans lists him as. The 2010 third-round pick (95th overall) has been a revelation in coach Sean Payton's offense, giving franchise quarterback Drew Brees a dynamic big threat to target frequently.
The fact that Graham splits out wide so often is a function of how Payton uses him. The Saints deploy an exotic, multifaceted system that calls on players to be versatile. That's no exception when it comes to Graham, but he does have a point in exploring this avenue for a higher salary.
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is more of a blocking asset in his team's power rushing attack. However, he is also a dangerous receiving threat (had 13 TD catches in 2013), and believes Graham is worthy of the money, per Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post:
I think Jimmy Graham is trying to make an informed decision as far as his contract. He believes that he deserves more, and I believe that he deserves more. He's just a wonderful presence. He's a great player. He has a lot of potential to go above and beyond and just go further. He is one of those guys that is a part of that tight end position that are changing the game -- Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, [Rob] Gronkowski. Those guys are some fantastic players. If it was me, if I was the owner of the team, I would give the kid everything he wants because he's that.
This past season, Graham caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and a league-high 16 touchdowns. Those numbers are generally reserved for a No. 1 wide receiver, but the way Graham is dominating from his position is changing the paradigm by which tight ends may be viewed in the future.
How do you feel about Jimmy Graham's grievance situation?
Offenses have become more reliant on the pass overall, so this modern era may foster some similar contract spats. Graham's case will go a long way in establishing precedent, and if he succeeds, other tight ends heavily used as receivers will likely try their hands at this chance to add cash.
Graham is an athletic marvel, plays with an elite QB in Brees and has a genius play-caller in Payton as the offensive maestro. Opting out of minicamp may be detrimental in some instances, but the Saints thankfully have the stability for Graham to chase after this possibility. Therefore, it shouldn't have much of a negative impact overall, if any, on the team and its preparations.
But should this situation drag on, there's a chance that Graham could be perceived as greedy, fairly or not. The longer he's away from his teammates, the greater the risk is of alienation. Considering how classy and productive Graham has been in his young career, he won't have anything to worry about as long as he continues to thrive in New Orleans.