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Things I Don’t Get About Jimmy Graham and the Tight End Position

Making my way around the NFL and things I don’t get about various topics within it, I’m sure people were amazed when they saw I hadn’t written a piece on all the controversy surrounding the New Orleans’ Saints’ Jimmy Graham and whether or not he is a tight end or a wide receiver. As The Student of the Game, it’s not that I lack questions on the topic, but that I hold an abundance of inquiries surrounding it. I needed time to form them properly. After all, as the weeks passed, this whole situation felt more like watching the X-files. . . as answers came, so too did more confusion.

Right out of the gate, one thing I don’t get about this is the fans’ outrage seen in Graham’s declaring he’s a wide receiver and not a tight end. The way he was lit aflame across social media as greedy — you’d think he was holding out of training camp.

Let’s be clear, I’m not naive. When a team franchises a player, the top five salaries at the position are averaged to calculate a guaranteed salary in order for the organization to keep that player in house for a single season. With that number being around $7 million for tight ends and $12.3 million for wideouts, there’s certainly incentive for the Saints to save $5 million in cap space and for Jimmy Graham to cash in.

Now if you are one of those fans who automatically convicts elite athletes of an ethical crime for getting paid such high salaries, I doubt you’ll sympathize, but others may remember that the Saints have proven to be a tough front office to negotiate with. I am alluding to New Orleans’ front office waiting until the last possible second to negotiate a new deal for Drew Brees in the 2012 offseason. Brees is an elite quarterback who had brought the organization their first Super Bowl victory in 2010 and shattered the 5,000 yard mark passing in 2011. If they were that resistant in dealing with a future Hall of Fame player within the franchise, why would they be any more generous to a tight end?

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If I’m in Jimmy Graham’s camp and I’m aware of this and that on the field he broke 1200 yards receiving in 2013 (The next best in receiving yards at the position was Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns with only 917.) while leading all players in touchdowns scored for the previous 3 seasons combined (2011-2013). While posting these numbers and showing he is a consistent threat, Jimmy Graham is entering his prime as he is currently 27 years old. It is reasonable to expect high-level production from him for another three or four seasons barring catastrophe. Even with all that promise there were those who thought Graham a villain for haggling and posturing with New Orleans.

Then there was the arbitration itself. The proceeding eventually declared Jimmy Graham a tight end on the basis of several factors (including his twitter account listing him as the Saints’ tight end), but mainly the number of snaps where he lines up at that position as opposed to as a wide receiver was more than 60% by comparison.

The thing I don’t get about that is that both sides in the hearing agreed that a tight end was ruled as a player lined up within 4 yards of the offensive tackle. To put that in perspective, that’s 2 queen size beds next to each other head to foot. You could literally drive a car through a gap that size. If you take a basketball goal (pole and backboard included) and lay it horizontally with the base of the pole by the tackle’s outside foot, Graham could set his feet on the backboard and still be considered a tight end. Standing that far away from the edge of the offensive line how is that not a slot receiver?

Not to mention, this definition doesn’t even account for whether this player is ever meant to be a blocker on a play. In fairness, every player not carrying the ball is supposed to block on running plays, but it is a primary portion of a tight end’s role as it was originally conceived. Regardless, of what historic figures such as Kellen Winslow Sr., Ozzie Newsome, and Todd Christensen did for the evolution of the position before we ever heard of Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez, or Antonio Gates (let alone Jimmy Graham) if a player is in the top 15 in receiving yards for an entire season, it certainly can be argued he’s closer to a wide receiver than he is a glorified 6th lineman like we saw in Mike Ditka or John Mackey back in the day.

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As it all turned out, Jimmy Graham got a deal on par with an elite receiver, regardless of his spot on the field, by signing a contract worth $40 million for 4 years with $20.9 million of it guaranteed. Graham has his paper while the New Orleans Saints retain a key component of their high flying offense. But it makes me wonder. . . Jimmy Graham isn’t a system player, but a fantastic athlete with size and speed that creates match-up problems. He would be an asset on any team with any quarterback which leaves me thinking if that the Saints didn’t pay him right, someone would have. Put another way, the Saints need him far more than Graham needs them. Why were they so difficult in negotiating with him if they wanted to keep him? Was the risk of losing such a central piece of the squad worth a few million savings in cap room? . . . I just don’t get it.

Author Profile

Kyle NashThe Student of the Game
Host of the Student of The Game Podcast Monday @ 7:30pm EST
Writer for NGSC Sports
Narrator of Sport Symposium on NGSC Sports YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSMS502kM7IMxFj7jf5ih5mTbFS_-9HJL

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