Last offseason, Jared Cook tried to convince the NFL and the Tennessee Titans that he should be viewed as a wide receiver instead of a tight end, since the athletic pass-catcher lined up in the slot plenty of times. Nobody agreed with him, and the Titans replaced Cook with a cheaper, more well-rounded option in former San Francisco 49ers No. 2 TE Delanie Walker, who is starting to look like the better player anyway. Cook signed a huge deal with the St. Louis Rams and was their most productive pass-catcher this past season, so he isn’t doing too badly for himself.
While New Orleans Saints star tight end Jimmy Graham is a significantly better player and is unlikely to be “let go” in free agency by the team, he is in a similar fight. Graham is viewed by most people as a tight end who is athletic enough to play in the slot and even split out wide, but he wants to be viewed as a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes. See, tight ends make a mediocre $6 million on the tag, and there’s no way in heck Graham wants to be compensated just $6 million on the tag. This gives him even less leverage when it comes to negotiating a new contract, because the Saints have stated that they are willing to tag him. $6 million for one year for a guy like Graham is dirt cheap, and he almost has to agree to a long-term deal and has little chance of hitting the free agent market. I mean, the Saints would have to decide that they don’t want him anymore for Graham to hit FA.
That is, unless the league somehow allows him to be tagged as a wide receiver, since he would make $4.5 million more than he would have as a TE under the tag. That’s a huge difference, and Graham’s main argument will likely be that he rarely ran plays as an in-line tight end. The Saints will, of course, correctly argue that tight ends are being used less as in-line players, and that it’s fair for Graham to make as much as his peers due to the depth of the TE position and the multitude of TEs, like Cook and Jordan Reed, who are versatile pass-catchers like Graham
For the record, Saints star quarterback Drew Brees seems to be on the Saints side, and I wonder if he is doing this since he knows that it would be easier for the team to keep one of his top targets if he is classified as a TE. Brees told NBC Sports Radio’s Erik Kuselias, via Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, “He’s a tight end. We’re able to do a lot of creative things with him, just like we’re able to do with a lot of our offensive personnel. I feel like with Sean Payton, with our offensive system and we gear towards putting those guys in the best position to succeed according to their strengths. Jimmy Graham is six-seven, 270, he runs like a deer, he can jump and catch, he’s so strong and physical, he plays with great fire and passion, he can play the line, he can split out.”
That’s a lot of great praise from Brees, but the most important sentence is the first one.