Is a tomato a fruit or vegetable?
Based on origin, a tomato is a fruit. But does it make a difference that tomatoes are primarily used as a vegetable in cooking? What’s a fruit to one person (a farmer), might be a vegetable to another (a chef). And to the average consumer, a tomato may be BOTH a fruit AND a vegetable… a hybrid, perhaps, depending on the situation, or who you ask.
Is Taylor Swift a country music singer or a pop star?
Her genre was certainly classified as “Country” when she began her career, but lately she has more pop hits. Now, some of her songs are country and others are pop. A few are mixed; they have traits of both genres. Many country music buffs would likely tell you she’s more of a pop artist now. But the average music listener likely still sees her as a country singer.
Is Jimmy Graham a tight end or a wide receiver?
Surely he was drafted as a tight end. Moreover, most fans would classify him as a tight end because that’s how he’s been listed throughout his career, and his body type fits the mold of a that position. But like Taylor Swift’s songs, Graham possesses qualities of both positions (or genres). And like the tomato, he’s primarily used as something else: a receiver.
Within the next 10 days, the New Orleans Saints will apply the franchise tag to Jimmy Graham, designating him as a “Tight End.” Recognizing he has a compelling argument that he should be designated as a wide receiver, and understanding that he has around $5 million to gain if he is designated as such, Graham will file a grievance, claiming he should be tagged as a “Wide Receiver” rather than a “Tight End.”
Afterward, an unprecedented legal battle will ensue in the NFL.
This offseason, the court will seek to provide a definitive answer to this question: the issue at-hand is whether Jimmy Graham is classified as a tight end or a wide receiver.
What makes this situation so unique is that this is NOT a typical law suit, where the outcome is based on which party best compares, distinguishes, and applies already ruled-upon cases. Here, we have an unprecedented, new-era case.
It’s only recently that teams have begun using freakishly athletic tight ends like Jimmy Graham, as receivers. Graham is 6’5, 266 pounds and can run a ’40 yard dash in 4.55 seconds. Teams seek to take advantage of players with a similar (Graham-like) rare blend of size and speed by lining these tight ends up all over the formation in order to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. The recent tendency of exploiting mismatches with versatile tight ends has been compared to the way an aggressive chess player uses his Queen.
This strategy is a relatively cutting-edge concept, but as player’s are getting bigger, stronger, and faster each year, and with the NFL being more of a film-reliant, copy-cat league than ever before, a once rare occurrence is now becoming a trend… like the internet.
In that sense, this suit is comparable to the abundance of new-age, modern technology-based cases that the courts have encountered in the past 15 years, and are still dealing with today. Similarly, here the court will look to clear out the dense fog as it navigates through unchartered waters of the hybrid TE/WR categorization argument.
As with any unprecedented case dealing with an up-and-coming trend, the verdict looms large. Not only will the ruling dictate similar cases in the future, but also each party in this particular legal battle has about $5 million at stake.
Before diving into each side’s potential arguments, some background of the facts are necessary: namely, what is a Franchise Tag and why is it important here?
Under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), a non-exclusive franchise tag – which is the most common form and the type that is referred to in this column – allows teams to sign one player each offseason to a 1-year deal just before his contract is about to expire and he enters free agency (the open market where any team is allowed to sign him).
As long as the player does not negotiate with another team, the franchise tag offers a player a fully-guaranteed 1-year deal for a predetermined salary. The predetermined salary, however is very costly; it’s a essentially a one-year contract worth the average of the top five salaries at the particular player’s position for the previous year.
The “particular player’s position” language is what’s essential here. Since each particular position has a predetermined salary, some positions have greater monetary values than others.
Here is a list of last year’s franchise tag designations by position:
|Kicker or Punter||$2,977,000|
As you can see, last year the difference between being franchise tagged as a wide receiver ($10.5 million) and tight end ($6 million) was about $4.5 million.
This season, the difference is projected to be greater. A wide receiver franchise tag designation is supposed to be about $12 million, and the tight end number is projected around $7 million.
So basically, there are $5 MILLION reasons for Graham to file suit, hoping to be designated as a wide receiver rather than a tight end. Likewise, there are $5 million reasons the Saints will argue to keep the status quo, that Graham is indeed a tight end.
Because of Graham’s overall effectiveness and value to the Saints, combined with his young age (27) and potential to improve, Graham is in line for a MASSIVE contract.
Let this sink in: Within the next year, and perhaps as early as this offseason, Jimmy Graham is going to be the HIGHEST PAID TIGHT END IN NFL HISTORY.
We’re talking 50+ MILLION DOLLARS over five or six years.
To most casual observers, those numbers seem ludicrous! But perhaps what’s more stunning is actually how criminally UNDERPAID Graham was under his current contract. Graham’s base salary in 2012 was $540,000. In 2013, Graham made only $1.32 million.
And before many of you readers think to yourselves: “there’s no ‘only’ in front of 1.23 million dollars,” consider this:
Last year, tight end Rob Gronkowski signed a contract for 6-years, $53 million with $16.5 million guaranteed. All things considered, namely health, value and productivity, that those figures should merely be the baseline of Graham’s negotiations (at least, according to his agent, Jimmy Sexton).
I’ve done a lot of research on how VALUABLE Jimmy Graham is to the New Orleans Saints, but I’ll reveal that analysis when I discuss Graham’s leverage during a potential hold out below.
For now let’s take a look at the basic summary of each party’s potential legal arguments regarding Jimmy Graham’s franchise tag designation:
[Plaintiff] GRAHAM’S arguments he’s a WIDE RECEIVER:
Terms of the CBA-
The Section 7(a) of the CBA lists the positions that will be used for franchise tag designation, including wide receiver and tight end. The only place in the entire CBA where the phrase “tight end” appears is in that section, and there is no guidance in what it means to play the position of tight end on a given play.
What’s more, the important language in CBA on this issue reads: “[franchise tag position designation] will apply to the position in which the player participated in the most plays.”
…Graham played 66.8% of his snaps lined up as a WR in 2013.
According to Graham’s agent, the language in the contract clearly states how this case should be decided.
In plain English: In relation to the franchise tag designation, a player’s position is based on where he lined up the most > Graham lined up the most at receiver > Therefore, Graham is a receiver.
This is an example of classic deductive reasoning by a lawyer, characterized by a logical analysis of the available facts.
Furthermore, the plaintiff [Graham] could argue that if the percentage of where Graham lined up isn’t enough (“but we feel it should be”), we can’t ignore snap distribution in terms of types of plays run. In other words, we should consider whether the team generally looks to Graham as a receiver when he’s on the field or whether he’s asked to block, like tight ends so often supposed to do.
In the past three years, Graham has run a pass route for 1,828 of his snaps. Graham has only served as a blocker for 705 snaps in that span, either pass blocking or run blocking.
That means when Graham is on the field, he’s asked to run a pass route as a receiver on 72.1% of plays. Despite the notion that tight ends are supposed to both block and catch, Graham has only blocked 27.9% of the time he’s been in the game in the last three years.
By comparison, we must take a look at how the Saints utilize their wide receivers. During that span, WR Marques Colston has run pass routes as a receiver on 1,882 snaps, and he’s blocked for 641 snaps. Thus, Colston was used as a receiver on 74.6% of his snaps and used as a blocker 25.4% of the time.
Colston’s 74.6 pass route per snap percentage is strikingly near Graham’s 72.1 figure.
But we can’t make a valid comparison without seeing how the team uses it’s other tight ends as well…
Last season, TE Ben Watson had 155 snaps in which he ran a pass route as a receiver, and he was used as a blocker for 428 plays. That means TE Ben Watson was used as blocker rather than a receiver a whopping 74.4% of the time, which is vastly distinguishable from his supposedly “fellow tight end” Jimmy Graham’s low 27.9 blocking per snap percentage. Basically, Watson’s 74-26 blocker/receiver per snap ratio was practically the opposite of Graham’s 28-72 ratio.
For further comparison, the Saints’ third string tight end, Josh Hill, ran pass routes as a receiver on 81 of his snaps while serving as a blocker for 146 plays. Hill’s 35-65 receiver/blocker ratio was also very different from Graham’s 72-28 receiver/blocker ratio.
Thus, it’s clear that Graham is used not used primarily as a blocker like the other tight ends on the Saints’ roster, but rather his assignments are much more similar to the way the team uses wide receiver Marques Colston.
In fact, more arguments can be made that the Saints use Graham more like Colston than the other tight ends on the roster.
For one, the types of routes Graham ran on pass plays were of a similar nature to Colston’s. Brees attempted 62 passes to Colston when he was beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (LOS), and 63 passes were thrown to him within 10 yards of the LOS. Graham posted similar figures: he was thrown to 68 times beyond 10 yards of the LOS and 76 times within 10 yards of the LOS. So the argument that Graham was running different, generally shorter routes designed for a more traditional TE simply cannot be made.
Both players also lined up in the slot more often than not on passing plays, so where they lined up for the most part did not differ. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Graham lined up “in the slot” 45% of the time.
Likewise, Colston lined up in the slot 56% of the time.
Per Pro Football Focus, Graham’s Yards Per Pass Route run was 2.26. This was the highest number among TEs by far and ranked 9th for WRs in 2013. Colston’s was merely 1.77, another measure which indicates that the Saints did not curtail, but rather expanded Graham’s route-tree to a level that matches Colston’s.
Based on his productivity and how the Saints move Graham all around the formation, using his versatility and rare blend of size and speed to exploit mismatches in the opposing defense like a queen in chess, Graham’s agent’s argument should be that he has transcended the tight end position and should be paid accordingly.
To prove this, Graham’s camp may look no further than his receiving statistics. In the past 3 years, only five times has a tight end recorded more than 950 receiving yards in a season. Three of those five rare occurrences belong to Graham.
There are some more facts worth knowing about Graham’s “receiving” production:
- In the last three seasons, Jimmy Graham has amassed 270 catches, 3507 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns.
- There’s only ONE player in the NFL that has more yards, catches and TDs in that span. He goes by the name of Calvin Johnson.
- In fact, in the last three years, only Johnson, Wes Welker, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and AJ Green have more receiving yards. And only Johnson has scored more TDs.
This is insane production is despite the fact that Graham played through ALL of the 2012 season with a fractured wrist he sustained in the preseason (and covered up). Graham also played with partially torn plantar fascia in his foot – a very painful injury that makes it tough to plant and cut – from week 6, onward, in 2013.
Additionally, Graham accumulated those exceptional statistics without ever receiving over 70% of the snaps in a season, which is remarkably absurd considering the few wide receivers listed above that were able to match Graham’s extraordinary numbers played a healthy 90+% of snaps.
In sum, Graham’s efficient on-field production rivals that of the NFL’s best wide receiver by far, Calvin Johnson. And the rest of the game’s receivers (and especially tight ends) aren’t even close to that level.
Based on the the aforementioned facts, the argument could be made that Jimmy Graham should be asking for top-5 wide receiver money from the Saints because that’s in line with the value he adds to their offense.
Therefore, as Graham’s agent will state, at the very minimum, the court should at least recognize Graham as a wide receiver for the time being.
[Defendant] NEW ORLEANS SAINTS’ argument that Graham is a TIGHT END:
As Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis said in a press conference, Graham was drafted as a tight end, and he was intended to be used accordingly.
Graham is also listed as a TE on the depth chart and by the NFL.
Since the language in the CBA regarding designating a player’s position based on the number of plays where he lines up at, is unfavorable for the Saints, they’ll be forced to argue that the language is textually unsound for a few reasons and it should not apply here.
The Saints could argue that if the court were to follow the text, then it would lead to many controversies from players who are “lesser receivers” and more traditional tight ends than Graham is.
For instance, Chase Coffman, Dennis Pitta, Gavin Escobar, Tony Scheffler, Dallas Clark, Kellen Winslow, Jacob Tamme and Tony Gonzalez ALL saw a higher snap percentage at WR than Graham in 2013…
But everyone who watches the NFL knows they are all tight ends in the strict sense of the position, and they should never be considered wide receivers, much less be given the opportunity to argue they are.
The Saints would have to counter the argument that Graham is transcending the tight end position by arguing that it’s simply more common in the modern (pass-first) NFL to have tight ends line up all over the field. Being a versatile tight end is just part of the position now, in the same way that running backs are asked to catch and block more in the modern era.
Just because we seek different qualities among certain positions to better fit the way the game has evolved in the last decade, does not mean the title of the positions should change.
The Saints can make an argument that we should take the position as it comes, unfolds and progresses over time, and we should let the “market” determine its value over time. Just because the tight end position is of increased importance with the expanded responsibilities of being a more capable receiver, does not mean he has switched positions. It just means the position is a more valuable, versatile chess piece (now that the coach knows how to use his queen more effectively). So eventually, teams will pay more of a premium for tight ends, thus their franchise tag designation will rise naturally and accordingly. Hence, the status quo shall remain intact.
In other words, in the olden days (in your father’s NFL), a team’s running back and middle linebacker may have been the two most important players on the field. Now in today’s pass-first league, both positions are not nearly as valuable or as heavily compensated as a quarterback or defensive end. A quarterback and defensive end have gained importance with added responsibility over the years, but that does not remotely mean they have changed positions!
Additionally, the language in the CBA may be void because the distinctions between positions where a player lined up is confusing and vague on its face.
- Citing ESPN Stats & Info, Graham lined up as a tight end 33% of the time, “in the slot” 45% of the time, and as an outside receiver on 22% of his plays.
But it’s not quite that clear-cut, the Saints could argue…
For instance, what if Graham lines up in the slot with his hand off the ground (like a receiver) but may be in position to chip (a form of blocking) the defensive end or strong-side linebacker if needed? This certainly seems like something a traditional tight end would be asked to do.
There are many blurred lines when it comes to categorizing where a player – who moves around the formation as often as Graham does – lines up.
For instance, what do you classify Jimmy Graham as on this play?
The biggest area of complexity that the court will have to decipher is on those hybrid plays where Graham is lined up within one body width of the tackle. They are likely categorized as “in the slot” as a receiver, but not all slot plays are the same.
Here (above), Graham could easily make a block on the Carolina DE based on WHERE he’s standing (like a tight end), OR he could go out for a pass based on HOW he’s standing (in a 2-point stance with his hand off the ground like a wide receiver).
Per Jason Lisk (TheBigLead), if you take examine the first 24 plays in the first half of the Carolina home game, a detailed chart of where Graham looked up would look like this:
The Saints could easily construe the data for the entire season in their favor by categorizing more than half of those detailed alignments as “tight end,” but the decision-maker will have to carefully analyze and make a knowledgeable football determination of what characterizes lining up as a receiver or a tight end.
The point is that because of these hazy and questionable alignments, the Saints could argue that the language in the CBA does not provide enough analysis of what constitutes the position a player “lines up” in, and is thus void.
If the court agrees, then that Saints will have bypassed a huge hurdle, as Graham’s main argument will based on the language of the contract.
How the court should come out:
Sometimes when deciding a tight case, courts look to how a ruling will affect public policy.
Here, the court may employ a balancing test, analyzing the weight of the impact on the NFL if Graham is listed as TE as opposed to a WR.
If listed as WR, it would be a precedent set with massive ramifications. It begs many questions:
For one, does that mean Graham’s official position in the league is now a WR? Does this change move all his statistics into the WR category, putting an asterisk on any TE-related statistical accomplishments and records he’s broken (and will continue to break)? What about his 3 All-Pro selections (1 first team, 2 second teams)? What about the effect on college prospects – how are athletic, hybrid TEs entering the draft going to be listed? There’s no formula for that because it’s impossible to know whether a team will use them like the Saints use Graham.
The league must be prepared to answer these questions, and it would be a burdensome task legislating which hybrid TE/WRs are TEs and which are WRs. Suppose a hybrid PLAYER-X lines up as a WR 53% of the time one year and then 56% of the time at TE the following year. Does he change positions by the season? If so, what happens if this hypothetical scenario arises – seeing that PLAYER-X is near the 50% cut-off with two games left in the regular season, and knowing he’s in a contract year, PLAYER-X’s team begins to design and dial up more plays where he lines up at TE with the sole hidden agenda of being able to save $5 million when they franchise him that offseason? After all, the NFL is a business.
And I can’t help but wonder…
If the decision-maker rules Graham as a wide receiver, does that mean he must be drafted as a WR in fantasy football?! That affects millions of Americans, myself included (even though it’s unlikely the court will care).
On a serious note, of grave concern: if Graham is listed as a tight end rather than a wide receiver, it completely negates the aforementioned language in the CBA (that Graham’s side is relying on).
After an extended lock out in 2013 during the negotiation process, does the NFL really want to send a message that the language in the CBA is up for debate? This especially pressing because it’s well known that the player’s association got the worse end of the bargain already.
Some readers may be thinking: “HEY, challenging the laws and the language in statutes is commonplace in law suits. That’s what the courts are for!” However, it’s important to recall that the CBA, while it is “ruling law” in the NFL, is also an agreed-upon contract. More specifically, it’s an express contract that is negotiated extensively and dissected for years.
The owners have already agreed to this language in the contract, and it was obviously a bargained-for move by the NFLPA, in that it seemingly only benefits them to have players get paid by where they line up as opposed to their official position.
So while a better argument can possibly be made that Graham is a WR, and the language in the CBA may help this cause, the court has to decide whether or not to issue a ruling that greatly alters the public (NFL) policy.
That’s a major mountain that Graham’s camp may be forced to climb.
And to me, that’s ultimately what this comes down to here. I believe the court is more likely to rule that Graham is a tight end, saving the issue for later (in negotiation on the next CBA)…
In that new CBA, we should see more descript language regarding the franchise tag, perhaps the positions will be defined and split up more. Distinctions between free safety and strong safety; traditional TE, and receiving TE; wide receiver and slot WR…
…or perhaps the franchise tag will be eliminated altogether.
How does this affect you as a Saints’ fan?
In theory, a ruling against Graham is good thing for Saints (and thus Saints fans) because it means the team gets to save $5 million in cap space this year.
The team has already cut DE Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer and SS Roman Harper (moves that collectively saved the Saints $16 million) to create cap space for Graham’s impending mega contract. It also helps that the NFL ‘s salary cap for the next season is projected to be about $132 million, which is $6 million higher than the previously predicted $126 million.
This means the Saints will have more room to work with in their paramount quest of locking up Graham long-term, while still addressing the major needs on their roster (T, WR, CB) before the window of opportunity closes in a few years when Brees retires.
With that said, there’s a valid argument to be made for why the team may want Graham to win this legal battle.
Although the franchise tag is essentially a 1-year, guaranteed contract with the Saints, that doesn’t mean Graham forced to actually PLAY football.
Players in messy contract disputes often HOLD OUT if they are displeased with the negotiation process or their impending salary. When a player holds out, he simply refuses to step on the field until both parties reach what he hopes to be a lucrative, multi-year deal.
The idea is that, as the player threatens to hold out for a portion of the regular season, the team will eventually cave to his demands as the deadline approaches, and his new rich contract will squash the all the daily minor penalties and fines associated with missing practices and potentially forfeited game checks the player incurred as a result of holding out.
For a player in Graham’s position, where he knows he is eventually going to receive a HUGE contract, it’s a smart business decision to hold out for two reasons. First, it puts pressure on the Saints to prepare for their offense to perform without their best weapon, which in turn will give Graham extensive leverage, as see soon. And second, if he’s not playing football, he won’t be risking injury. I’ll address each of these issues separately.
1. Graham is a lot more valuable to the Saints than you think:
Graham has leverage to hold out because of his tremendous value to the offense. His amazing production has been stated above. Moreover though, the Saints had the LOWEST percentage of throws directed toward wide receivers in the NFL last season, and the HIGHEST percentage of throws directed toward tight ends.
The Saints relied on Graham more than ever last season, as the team’s receivers struggled to get off the line of scrimmage due a lack of acceleration and bad hand usage defeating press coverage. The receivers also failed to separate like in previous seasons. Thus, Graham was the focal point of the offense, and opponents knew this.
Still, Graham was straight-up unstoppable until he hurt his foot against New England in week 6. A nagging plantar fascia injury hindered Graham’s explosiveness in and out of his cuts, and his ability to separate from defenders and beat double and bracket coverage was severely limited. The Saints finished 8-5 after Graham’s foot injury despite starting 5-0 with Graham healthy.
After discovering this Graham’s potential impact on the team’s win/loss total, I felt it necessary to analyze how the Saints fared when opponents were able to effectively take Graham out of the game (a feat that seemingly only became plausible after he sustained his foot injury).
In 11 games where Graham had over 50 yards or scored twice, the Saints outscored opponents 318-173 (28.9 PPG). When Graham failed to reach 50 yards receiving or score twice, the Saints were outscored 137-175 (19.75 PPG). That’s an immense 10 PPG difference.
At the very least, that’s a stat that demonstrates that the Saints were not nearly as successful getting the ball to other receiving targets when the opponent wholly contained or eliminated Graham from hurting them. Based on the defense’s attention and heavy shifts in coverage designed toward stopping Graham, Sean Payton’s creative mind and aggressively natured play-calling would surely create isolation (1 on 1) matchups with defensive backs, right? That’s a rhetorical question. In my opinion, the lack of receiver production, all things considered, is quite alarming…
And then there’s this juicy nugget:
The Saints’ five active wide receivers throughout the course of the season – Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, and Nick Toon, plus backup tight end Ben Watson – COMBINED to score a grand total of 16 touchdowns last season…
…Jimmy Graham scored 16 touchdowns last season alone.
In sum, even though Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and Brees’ accuracy is a big reason why Graham’s numbers are off the charts, it’s nearly impossible to debate that the Saints’ offense WITHOUT Graham is MUCH less effective. The Saints can’t afford to play games without a healthy, effective Graham, so Graham has a boatload of leverage in this respect.
2. A hold out Graham is a healthy Graham
If Graham does not hold out, he risks an injury that could damage his career and ruin his future earnings. This is another reason why we, as Saints fans, cannot blame Graham for holding out.
Risk of injury is why players do not like the franchise tag in the first place. Despite the high monetary value, the tag is essentially a 1-year “prove it” deal after Graham has “proved it” for 3 straight seasons. The franchise tag offers no long-term stability, so players generally hate it.
For Graham, it’s wise to err on the side of caution here. If Graham were to play out the season, and he tore his ACL in the first few weeks of the season, his market value would decrease significantly. At that point, now we have a 6’6, 265 pound player who needs a year of rehab to get back to full strength. A potentially balky knee would put his explosiveness, speed and fluidity in routes (running and smooth cutting ability) in jeopardy, which, in combination with his size, was reason he was elite.
If he tears his ACL in, say, week 14, his value sinks like stone. What could have been a deal of 6-year, $54 million with $15 million guaranteed (Rob Gronkowski’s contract numbers last year) could turn into a 3-year, $20 million incentive-based deal with much less guaranteed, as teams don’t want to guarantee money to a player who is coming off major knee surgery.
Therefore, you can see why Graham may reasonably hold out if the two parties can’t reach a deal this offseason.
What’s the deadline for striking a deal?
In my opinion, training camp, not the regular season, is the deadline for getting this deal done. Since I’ve been following the NFL, the majority of stars who hold out into training camp are far less productive that season for a number of reasons:
- They are distracted – Their minds are not right. Football generally hasn’t been the #1 thing on a hold out’s mind.
- They lose motivation – Once the hold out ends, the player is paid handsomely. Am I suggesting that NFL player’s don’t try hard or put effort into perfecting their craft once they strike it rich? Not quite. But let’s just say that there’s more incentive to perform when millions of dollars are on the line. Does Graham suit up with a fractured wrist or plantar fascia if he deposited $54 million in the bank? I’m not so sure. Again, I’m not accusing. I’m just speculating a natural element of human nature.
- They lack chemistry – Training camp is important for both team bonding and getting valuable reps in with the players around them. For example, when a tight end misses training camp, the chemistry between he and his quarterback is not fully developed. Not only does this lead to more miscommunications, but throws off the timing of throws based on unfamiliar route-running. Without Graham in training camp, Brees may look to another target to lock on to when under duress. There’s also a blocking chemistry among the tackles and guards near him that be faulty, resulting in more missed blocking assignments, etc…
- Increased injury risk – Players who miss training camp generally aren’t in shape. Players who aren’t in shape are more likely to get injured. There’s a direct correlation and causation here.
Overall, for these reasons, players who hold out into training camp tend to underachieve that season. This is why it’s mutually beneficial for both parties (and for WHODAT Nation) to strike a deal BEFORE training camp.
Is there any way Graham does not hold out?
In an ideal world, this impending legal battle wouldn’t matter because Graham and the Saints would eventually agree to a 6-year, $56 million contract with about $18 million guaranteed this summer. Ultimately, I predict they will reach a deal of this magnitude in July.
But if not, Graham will consider holding out. And because of this, Saints fans actually may WANT Graham to win this legal battle and be designated as a wide receiver for the time being. Although that result would cost the Saints around $5 million against the cap, it would also put about $5 million in Graham’s pockets, which is 5x as much as he made last season. Consequently, the extra cash may provide Graham with a little extra incentive to play out his 1-year franchise tag (WR) contract of about $12 million in 2014 in case the two sides can’t reach a long-term deal by the regular season.
In other words, if Graham loses the case and is listed as a TE, he would be set to make ~$7 million in 2014 as opposed to ~$12 million, a number he’s much less likely to risk playing under.
My overall thoughts on Graham as a player / Is he worth the money?
Graham will become a major asset in the Saints’ future regardless of whether Graham ends up becoming a wide receiver or remaining a tight end.
However, the court’s ruling doesn’t change the fact that Graham’s tragic flaw is that he plays too much like a wide receiver on the field. And no, I’m not referring to where he lines up or how the Saints use him. I’m talking about his weaknesses on film.
For as physically dominant as he is, Graham doesn’t use his body well. He doesn’t use his hips to gain separation from defenders. He often runs behind jump-balls, waiting for and hoping the ball will soar over the defenders hands, rather than attacking the ball by using his enormous frame to shield the defender, positioning his mammoth body between the defender and ball, to where only he has the opportunity to pluck the ball out of the air. In short, Graham avoids contact when the ball is in the air, and it often gives smaller defenders – who should be helpless – a chance to make a play on the ball.
Despite being a former collegiate basketball player, Graham needs to improve vastly on his ability to use his size to his advantage when boxing out defenders.
Jimmy Graham is a great football player, but when the ball is not in his hands, he plays a little soft relative to his size.
If he started using his body like savvy veterans (Antonio Gates/Tony Gonzalez) do…then…well… that’d be a scary thought, wouldn’t it?
However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s worth every penny of the titanic deal he’s going to sign in the near future (hopefully this offseason).
Graham is a staple of the offense now. The lethal combination of Payton’s ingenious and innovative play designs and Brees’ pinpoint accuracy helps make Graham nearly impossible defend. His on-field production speaks for itself. He’s just entering his prime at age 27, has plenty of room improve and reach untapped potential. He has never been a problem in the locker room, has zero off-field incidents, and has played admirably through two major, painful injuries. Seeing as he’s the only viable go-to receiver on the roster, there’s absolutely no reason to believe Graham isn’t the second most valuable player on the New Orleans Saints, vital to the team’s success and integral to the team’s long-term plans.
Graham is a slam dunk.
And I look forward to seeing a lot more of that in the future.
Pay the man!