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NFLPA Files Grievance On Graham's Behalf; Positional Fight On
As USA Today's Tom Pelissero framed it this morning: "The fight over Jimmy Graham's position has begun in earnest. ..." It's a fight that fantasy football owners will be watching with great interest in coming weeks. This after the NFL Players Association filed a grievance on Graham's behalf on Wednesday, arguing the franchise tag the New Orleans Saints placed on him in February should pay him like a wide receiver, not a tight end.

The grievance was filed after months of talks about a long-term extension failed to yield a deal.

The difference between the franchise tender amounts is nearly $5.3 million, with the tight end tag worth $7.035 million -- the amount of the tender Graham has not signed -- and the receiver tag worth $12.312 million.

The Saints have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal with Graham's camp, or he will either be forced to sit out the season or play under a one-year contract.

If the sides can't reach a settlement or otherwise resolve their differences, Graham's case would be heard by a third-party arbitrator, and the decision surely would affect leverage in negotiations on any long-term deal. No hearing date has been set, according to Pelissero's source.

The grievance argues Graham, 27, participated in more snaps last season as a receiver than a tight end. The Saints are expected to counter the tight end position in their offense is heavily "flexed" and thus Graham remains a tight end even though he often detaches from the formation.

The pertinent language appears in 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.”

Graham split out wide or ran out of the slot on nearly 70 percent of all the teams snaps last season

Graham has not spoken publicly about the issue since February. "I take every day one day at a time," he said. "I'm just going to wait and see what happens because that's where it's at."

Graham wasn't on-hand when the Saints began their voluntary offseason workout program last month. Drew Brees -- who sat out the 2012 offseason due to his own franchise tag fight -- said in March he had "no doubt" Graham would be on the field for Week 1.

"Listen, I know Jimmy will be ready to play, whether that means he's coming in tomorrow, April 21st or August 21st," Brees said then. "I know Jimmy Graham will be ready to play, and he'll be a big part of our offense and a big part of our team for a long time. I'm very confident that will work out."

When asked about Graham's contract status on Wednesday, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Katherine Terrell there is no update, a response he has maintained all offseason. But head coach Sean Payton didn't seem too worried when asked about the absence of Graham from offseason workouts.

"I think it's pretty normal," Payton said of Graham's status earlier today. "Everything the first week was pretty much as expected."

Because nobody really expected Graham to be there. ... Now we're taking the public part of negotiations to the next level. It's not a huge surprise.

The Saints want to re-sign Graham, who has 301 catches for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns in four NFL seasons, to a long-term deal. The fight over his position will clearly play a role in those negotiations, given the going rate for receiver contracts is significantly higher than that for tight ends. I'll continue to follow up as needed.