The much-anticipated ruling between the New Orleans Saints and star tight end Jimmy Graham is out, as the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that arbitrator Stephen Burbank has ruled in favor of the Saints and labeled Graham as a tight end. It’s a positive call for the league, since dubbing Graham as a wide receiver could have set off a whole chain reaction about how both positions are defined. Of course, players like Julius Thomas won’t be happy with the ruling since it changes their future and potential tagging dollars, but hopefully the cost of TEs rises as the quality and importance of the position rises. The likes of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro, and, of course, Eric Ebron were all coveted heavily on draft day, just as Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert were in 2013.
Graham is fully expected to appeal Burbank’s ruling now, especially since the loss means that he will be paid $5.3 million less if he ends up playing 2014 on the franchise tag. Either way, I would be shocked if both sides don’t agree to a contract extension, because I’m sure there is huge interest in getting him locked up. The Saints know Graham is an elite player and valuable mis-match maker, and Graham knows that he’s in a great position with a Super Bowl contender, Drew Brees at the helm, and weapons to take pressure off of him in the passing game.
Ebron stated something interesting earlier this offseason, as he suggested that the league make a special designation for the “joker” TE so that these heated rulings can be avoided. But with the league ruling against Dennis Pitta and Graham, it’s clear that “joker” players are rightfully viewed as TEs; that’s just the way the position has evolved today to differentiate between specialized blockers, pass-catchers, and the guys who can do it all like Rob Gronkowski or Jason Witten. Precedent has been set, and it’s clear that players like Graham derive their value from creating mis-matches as bigger players lined up in different regions of the field as TEs with WRs working symbiotically to make this mis-matches possible in the first place.