The most exciting stretches of the NFL offseason are behind us, with only a handful of notable free agents still on the market and teams signing their draft picks in time for training camp. Still, there will be a handful of storylines worth keeping an eye on over the next several weeks, and perhaps none are bigger than Jimmy Graham‘s upcoming hearing related to the positional designation on his franchise tag.
The Saints used their franchise tag on Graham earlier in the offseason, locking in a one-year contract offer worth the amount for a tight end: $7.035MM. However, now that a grievance has been filed, an arbitrator will be tasked with determining whether Graham should actually be considered a wide receiver, since he lined up as a wideout for about two-thirds of his snaps in 2013.
Graham’s side will point to a section of the CBA that states a franchise player’s position is the one “at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year,” arguing the standout pass-catcher should be eligible for the franchise salary for a receiver, which is expected to be about $11.5MM. That hearing is scheduled for June 17-18.
It’s possible that the two sides reach a multiyear agreement before a ruling on Graham’s position comes down, but if they don’t, the decision made at June’s hearing will significantly affect what sort of long-term money the Saints’ star could receive. Depending on how things play out, a handful of different scenarios are possible: Graham could play the 2014 season on the one-year franchise tag, he and the Saints could agree to a long-term contract, or a rival suitor could swoop in and sign Graham to an offer sheet, which New Orleans would have the opportunity to match.
That last outcome may seem unlikely, but Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report recently reported that multiple clubs are still “strongly considering” extending an offer sheet to Graham. If New Orleans elected not to match such an offer, the club would receive two future first-round picks from Graham’s new team. In my view, that’s probably too significant a price to pay for a tight end, particularly since you’d probably be committing to paying Graham $10MM annually in addition to losing the picks. Still, a contender expecting to be near the back of the first round for the next couple years could decide it’s worth the risk. At this point in the year, a deal could conceivably be structured in a way that would make it difficult for the capped-out Saints to match it.
I still think the most likely scenario sees Graham and the Saints eventually agree to multiyear contract, like Drew Brees did with the team a couple years ago. But that’s not a given yet, and the positional hearing in June adds a unique wrinkle to the situation. What do you think? How will this play out?