NFLPA files grievance for Saints TE Graham

METAIRIE, La. — The NFL Players Association confirmed Wednesday that it filed a grievance on behalf of Jimmy Graham concerning the Saints tight end’s franchise tag designation.

At issue is whether the NFL was correct to apply the tight end tag to Graham or whether Graham should have received the more lucrative wide receiver tag, a difference of $5 million.

The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement states that a player should be tagged according to the position at which he lined up most often. Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, are contending that the frequency with which Graham lined up split out from the line merits the $12.3 million receiver’s franchise tag, not the $7 million tight end tag.

No date for a grievance hearing has been set, but the filing alone could provide Graham with a measure of additional leverage as he seeks to have his franchise tag designation removed in favor of a long-term extension.

July 15 is the final day a team can sign 2014 franchise players to long-term extensions.

Graham’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, did not return a message seeking comment on the matter. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday there had been no progress to report on negotiations with Graham.

The Saints have asserted that lining up split from the line is a significant part of every tight end’s job description.

When asked in January whether the Saints viewed Graham as a tight end under the league’s CBA, Loomis responded: “Isn’t that what we drafted him as? Isn’t that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That’s what we see him as — a tight end.

“The tight end has always been part of the passing game,” Loomis continued. “He’s part of the running game. So he’s part of both. So are receivers. So are running backs.”

According to an analysis by ESPN Stats and Information, Graham lined up split out from the line on 67 percent of his snaps — 45 percent of the time in the slot and 22 percent out wide.

Unless the Saints and Graham pre-emptively agree on a long-term deal, an arbitrator may have to decide whether those numbers alone, under the language of the CBA, would require the league to apply the receiver designation to Graham.

If so, it likely would set a precedent for negotiations involving other tight ends who figure prominently in their teams’ passing games, and could substantially lower the franchise tag number for tight ends who more often line up next to offensive tackles.

It could also affect other positions in which players have varying roles, most notably some outside linebackers in a 3-4 defensive scheme, who could argue their right to receive the higher defensive end tag.

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