MONDAY, 4:05pm: Graham has officially been tagged as a tight end, says Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). That had been expected, and sets the stage for Graham and his reps to file a grievance.
SATURDAY, 9:15am: The Saints tagged Graham with the non-exclusive designation, adds ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (via Twitter). Calculated based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at a player’s position over the last five years and their percentage of the salary cap, the designation allows Graham to sign an offer sheet with another team, at which point the Saints would have five days to match or accept two first-round picks as compensation.
FRIDAY, 4:58pm: The Saints have formally used their tag on Graham, a source confirms to Pro Football Talk (Twitter link).
12:43pm: The Saints will use their franchise tag on Jimmy Graham before Monday’s deadline, reports Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Schefter’s tweet suggests that a long-term agreement isn’t close, though the two sides could still work out a multiyear contract after Graham has been tagged.
As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noted earlier this week, when an NFL team tags a player with the franchise designation, the club doesn’t specify a position. That decision is left to the league office. In this case, the team and player are expected to disagree on Graham’s position, with the Saints preferring to consider him a tight end, while Graham’s camp will push for a wide receiver designation. The difference between one-year franchise salaries for the two positions is expected to be nearly $5MM.
Assuming a grievance is filed, as expected, an arbitrator will be tasked with determining Graham’s position. Considering he lined up as a receiver for about two-thirds of his snaps in 2013, Graham and his reps will argue that, by the letter of the law, he should receive the franchise salary for a receiver, which is expected to be about $11.5MM. The CBA dictates that a franchise player’s position is the one “at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year.”
Of course, this process could be avoided if the Saints and Graham agree to a long-term deal. But as of Tuesday, the two sides were said to be several million dollars apart on an annual salary, which likely stems from that disagreement on the 27-year-old’s position. The club is reportedly willing to make Graham the NFL’s highest-paid tight end, exceeding Rob Gronkowski‘s $9MM annual salary. However, Graham is said to be seeking a salary that would pay him like a top-five receiver, in the neighborhood of $12MM per year.
In recent years, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, and Mike Wallace have inked deals whose annual salaries range from $11-12MM, and you could make a strong case that Graham has a more significant impact as a receiver than any of those players. In 2013, Drew Brees‘ favorite weapon recorded 86 catches, 1,215 receiving yards, and a career-high 16 touchdowns.