Saints will franchise tag TE Jimmy Graham, per report

Chris Graythen

The Saints plan to tag Graham as a tight end. Now we wait to see if he will file a grievance with the NFL arguing that he should be paid as a wide receiver.

The New Orleans Saints plan to place the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham before the deadline to do so on Monday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Now comes the interesting part.

The Saints will likely tag Graham as a tight end, the position he is listed at on their roster. But Graham's camp is expected to contend that he should be tagged as a wide receiver, a position that comes with a nearly $4.8 million increase in salary. Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, is expected to file a grievance with the NFL claiming his client's production and use within the Saints scheme make him a wide receiver.

Graham has a case: He lined up out wide or in the slot on 67 percent of his snaps in 2013. Only 14 wideouts had more than his 1,215 receiving yards and he led the league in touchdown receptions regardless of position.

NFL rules require that any player placed under the franchise tag receive a one-year contract with an annual salary of no less than the average salaries of the top five players at his position. That number for tight ends is expected to be $6.8 million in 2014. The wide receiver tag is estimated to be worth $11.6 million.

The Saints insist that Graham is a tight end and he should be paid as such.

"That's where we drafted him, that's where we play him," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told the Times Picayune during the Senior Bowl. "In our view he's a tight end. That's what makes him valuable."

NFL Free Agency

Graham, for his part, has stayed away from commenting on the argument.

"That's not for me to decide," the two-time Pro Bowler said at a charity event two weeks ago. "I'm going to do, and I'm going to play, whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple."

The ensuing contract debate could be anything but simple, however. If Graham's camp does file a grievance, the dispute will be heard by a neutral arbitrator. Similar cases have been threatened in the past but never come to fruition. In 2008, Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens contended he was defensive end instead of a linebacker, but the difference was rendered moot when he agreed to a long-term deal. Tight end Jared Cook wanted the St. Louis Rams to tag him as a wide receiver last season, but they eventually opted to let him walk in free agency.

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