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Fate of Saints vs. Graham in hands of arbitrator

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Jun 20 2014 09:32:52 AM CDT
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints, January 2012 NFL playoffs

Jeff Haynes/Reuters

METAIRIE, La. -

With training camp just five weeks away, the decision on whether New Orleans Saints' All-Pro Jimmy Graham is a wide receiver or a tight end is now in the hands of NFL system arbitrator Stephen Burbank.

Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, held a two-day grievance hearing that concluded Wednesday to listen to arguments from the NFL Management Council and NFL Players Association in their battle over Graham's position on the field.

The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham was drafted in 2010 as a tight end and received a franchise tag at that position from the Saints in late February, just weeks before his rookie contract expired.

But Graham contends he should have been franchised as a wide receiver because he lined up there 67 percent of the time last season when he led the NFL with 16 receiving touchdowns and topped the Saints in receiving yards with 1,215.

At stake is about $5 million, the difference in the $7.053 million tight end franchise tag and a $12.132 million tag for wide receivers. The CBA that was ratified in 2011 states the player should be tagged at the position at which he participated in the most plays during the previous season.

The Management Council was expected to argue that Graham lists himself as a tight end in his Twitter bio box and has been to two Pro Bowls at that position and is a hybrid tight end who is used in a variety of ways in the passing game.

Graham, agent Jimmy Sexton and Saints coach Sean Payton were among those who declined to comment after the hearing wrapped up on Wednesday at a suburban New Orleans hotel.

The decision of Burbank, which will likely come within a week, could be appealed by either side during a 10-day period. After that, they would have between 15 and 25 days to file a brief supporting the appeal -- which would be heard by a three-person panel, one of which must be a former judge.