The Decision On Jimmy Graham Could Change The NFL Forever
New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is a physical specimen. Standing at 6’7” and weighing 265 pounds, he has become a huge weapon for Drew Brees. His 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns had some thinking he was the best tight end in football. And the Saints were getting all that production out of him as he was getting paid only $1.323 million in salary. But a good bargain deal can only last for so long and Graham is up for a new deal. However, a new deal for him comes with one wrench in the plans: how is he classified?
Despite being labeled as a starting tight end, Graham hardly does things that normal tight ends would do. He is not known as a good in-line blocker despite his size. But what he is known for lining up in the slot or out wide, creating serious mismatches for defenses. And it’s because of the way he has been used that has him thinking he should not be paid as a tight end. Graham may end up having the franchise tag placed on him this offseason. And if that happens, he will more than likely be tagged as a tight end. The problem is he and his agent feel that he has been used more as a wide receiver than a tight end due to unconventional ways the Saints use Graham. His agent is reportedly getting prepared to file a grievance should Graham be classified as a tight end and in this scenario and Graham and his agent have a compelling case.
The difference between Graham being classified as a tight end or a wide receiver, should he be franchise tagged, is very significant. For those that don’t know, when you receive the franchise tag, the salary you are paid for that year is the average of the top five players at that position. In regards to the tight end position, Graham would be looking at around $5 million a year to play for New Orleans. If he were to be classified as a wide receiver, Graham would be looking at $6 million more for that one year of playing for the Saints. But the decision on Graham would not only affect him, but the future of the tight end position.
Many offenses are starting to redefine the way tight ends are used these days. Gone are the days where the tight end is an in-line receiver that lines up next to the offensive tackle. More often, tight ends are used as slot guys as the position becomes even more athletic than it once was. And as a result, you could classify some of these guys as a hybrid between a tight end and a wide receiver. With the changes at that position, if Graham was to win that case, it would fundamentally change the tight end position and its importance. Gone would be the days where tight ends are viewed as a level below the wide receiver. Monetarily, the pay grade for tight ends would rise if Graham was to challenge and win a ruling to be classified as a wide receiver. That would completely alter the way franchises construct teams offensively due to the allocation of funds. A new model would have to be come up with as players like Denver’s Julius Thomas and Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta are about to get paid eventually.
In the end, this decision on Graham’s deal has more to do with the NFL and less to do with him. He could fundamentally change the game fiscally forever and I think he just might do so. He’s earned big money and it’s time to open up the pocket book New Orleans.
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