1:53pm: While an agreement may not be expected between Graham and the Saints before the arbitrator’s decision, agent Jimmy Sexton flew into New Orleans today for a face-to-face meeting with the team, reports Katherine Terrell of the Times-Picayune.
8:49am: Most teams around the NFL will be focused on the opening of their mandatory minicamps today, but in New Orleans, management will be watching another situation just as closely. The hearing for Jimmy Graham‘s grievance over his franchise tag positional designation begins today, barring a compromise between Graham and the Saints. And that sort of last-minute settlement appears unlikely, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).
If arbitrator Stephen Burbank rules in favor of the NFL, Graham’s franchise tag value will remain at $7.035MM, the tight end figure. If Burbank rules in favor of the NFLPA, that franchise tag increases to $12.312MM, the amount for a wide receiver.
Back when the date of the hearing was first reported, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com indicated that it would occur on June 17 and 18, suggesting it would be a two-day affair. It’s not clear how much of the hearing will extend into Wednesday or when exactly we’ll get word of Burbank’s decision, but we can at least expect both sides to lay out their cases at the hearing today.
According to Rapoport (via Twitter), the NFL will argue that Graham meets in the tight end room, lines up where tight ends line up, and even lists himself as a tight end on his Twitter account. As Triplett wrote last week, the NFL will also point out that Graham’s argument ignores the historical use of tight ends, who often line up split out from the tackle.
Conversely, the players’ union seems to technically have the letter of the law on its side. The NFLPA will make the case that Graham lined up where a receiver would line up on about two-thirds of his snaps, and for franchise tag purposes the CBA defines a player’s position as the one “at which the franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior league year.” The union has “expressed a lot of confidence” in its case, according to Rapoport (via Twitter).
As Katherine Terrell of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes (via Twitter), this week’s decision isn’t about the $5MM difference between the one-year tight end and receiver franchise salaries — it’s about the long-term leverage that will be afforded to either Graham or the Saints. If Graham wins his grievance, he’ll have the opportunity to push for a multiyear contract similar to that of a top-five receiver. If the Saints win, they should have the leverage to keep that long-term deal more modest, though I’d still expect Graham to become the league’s highest-paid tight end.
The impact of the decision will extend beyond Graham and the Saints as well. If Graham wins the grievance, it could have a real effect on the way teams around the league line up their tight ends going forward, since clubs won’t want to be backed into a spot where they have to pay their standout tight ends like top wideouts.