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This means the Saints have tagged Graham for a one-year contract worth $7.053 million. It's expected for Graham's camp to file a grievance claiming Graham should be considered a wide receiver, which would be a one-year deal worth $12.132 million.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been staunch about the team's view of Graham as a tight end. Graham didn't give an answer one way or the other on the issue when asked about the debate a few weeks ago.
"That's not for me to decide," Graham said Feb. 13. "I'm going to do, and I'm going to play, whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple."
Indeed, the decision was made by the NFL’s Management Council. The league’s release announcing the development quotes the relevant language from the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states that the tender will be based on “the position. ... at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.”
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio explained, Graham will argue that he lined up more as receiver than as a tight end in 2013. The Saints will argue that tight ends routinely line up in the slot or split wide, but that this doesn’t make them something other than tight ends, since only tight ends line up tight to the tackle.
In other words, the Saints hope to persuade the System Arbitrator to find that, when Graham lines up in the slot or split wide, he’s still participating in those plays as a tight end.
Holder also points out that Graham's description of himself on his Twitter profile is of some interest: "New Orleans Saints Tight End #80. Private Pilot."
This will continue to play out over time.
"Whatever the outcome," Florio summed up, "the issue has been lingering for the last few years. At some point, a resolution is needed, either through arbitration or an amendment to the labor deal."
Meanwhile, Graham and the Saints have until July 15 to hammer out a long-term contract. If there's no long-term deal reached at the close of business July 15, Graham can then only play under the franchise tag with the Saints or sit out. The last day to sign a franchise tag tender is Nov. 11, the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season.
According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, the Saints don't expect Graham to show up for any offseason activities or workouts until the situation is resolved.
The Saints have offered Graham more than one long-term contract before reaching the franchise tag deadline, a league source told Holder, and the team is willing to make Graham the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski currently holds the distinction after receiving a six-year dealing maxing out at $54 million two years ago.
Graham is reportedly looking for an average or $12 million per season, which falls in line with the wide receiver franchise tag mark.
The 6-7, 265-pound offensive weapon led the NFL with 16 receiving touchdowns in 2013. He's also led the Saints in receptions the past three seasons and in TD catches and receiving yards in two of the past three seasons.