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But if/when the Saints apply the tight end version of the tag, the stage will be set for a fight over whether Graham should be tagged as a receiver. The fantasy implications are obvious; if the league sides with Graham, he immediately goes from being by far the top player at his position (and arguably a first-round pick) to a significantly less-valuable.
During the course of the Feb. 8 edition of FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, the discussion turned to Graham and his looming battle with the Saints.
As FootballDiehards co-host Mike Dempsey points out, Graham's 2013 totals would have made him the 8th-ranked wide receiver on a points-per game basis. The difference is enough to push Graham from a first or certainly no worse than a second round down to the third round or lower.
For Graham, the desire to be tagged lies in the $4.8 million difference between the current franchise tender numbers of the two positions. By tendering him as a tight end, the Saints are on the hook for the franchise number of $6.8 million for the 2014 season (assuming a long-term deal isn't reached and Graham plays out the season under the tag number). If he's tagged as a wideout? That number goes up to $11.6 million.
The argument -- at least among media types -- has already begun. SI.com's Peter King chimed in this morning with his view that Graham is a tight end no matter how the Saints use him.
"It’s ludicrous there’s even a discussion about whether Graham should be tendered as a tight end," King wrote. "Watch the game today. You see how often teams split out tight ends and even fullbacks. ... Splitting a player away from the formation doesn’t mean he’s not what he is defined as."
It seems like a reasonable enough point. The game is evolving. Whether a tight end lines up next to the tackle with his hand on the ground or split out wide, in the slot or even in the backfield shouldn't be the determining factor.
As King framed it: "It’s going to be a sad day for football if head coaches like Sean Payton have to consider when they formulate a game plan, 'Well, I can’t flex Graham out too often, or he’ll be considered a wide receiver.' Just a stupid, stupid can of worms that has been opened up."
The problem is, as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio contends, King is wrong. And Florio's reasoning is more cut-and-dried (and certainly less emotional).
It's as simple as article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The labor deal requires that the franchise player be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.”
So, Florio explained, "it’s not 'ludicrous' that there’s a discussion," because Graham lined up tight to the tackle only one third of the time in 2013, according to ProFootballFocus.com. It’s also not ludicrous because the Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley started down this road in 2012, with the Packers ultimately unwilling to roll the dice in the grievance process, instead striking a two-year deal with Finley while the challenge to his designation as a tight end was pending.
If the argument was ludicrous, the Packers surely would have held firm.
Florio added it's also not ludicrous because the Titans opted not to even tag tight end Jared Cook last year, for fear that: (1) he’d file a grievance; (2) he’d opt to not settle it; (3) he’d win; and (4) the Titans would be stuck paying him an eight-figure salary for 2013.
Again, the game is evolving. There's no doubt the more athletic tight ends in the league today aren't as limited in how they are (and will continue to be) used. More complicated offensive schemes rely on moving players around to better create mismatches and tight ends like Graham, Finley, Cook, Cleveland's Jordan Cameron and Washington's Jordan Reed among others have the skills to take advantage of them.
So the battlefield is prepped. Graham's ability to convince the league he's more wide receiver than tight end will have huge implications for both the NFL and fantasy players. Given that, I'll be following this story closely in coming weeks. In the meantime be prepared for some heated rhetoric -- if not from the principals involved then certainly from media outlets looking to maximize the drama.