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Graham's grievance hearing ends

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The grievance hearing over Jimmy Graham's franchise tag wrapped up Wednesday after two days in a New Orleans-area hotel. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank's decision is expected in about a week, based on similar hearings in the past.

Burbank heard arguments from the NFL Players Association and the NFL Management Council to determine whether Graham should be officially labeled as a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes.

Graham, agent Jimmy Sexton, Saints coach Sean Payton and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith were among those in attendance, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. They all declined to comment Wednesday, however, and the hearings were held in private.

At stake is whether the Saints will be required to offer Graham a one-year franchise-tag salary of $7.053 million or $12.132 million.

Even more critical is how the ruling will affect their negotiations over a long-term contract. The two sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement, or else Graham can only play under a one-year deal this season.

Graham's argument is that he should be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide 67 percent of the time last season. And the collective bargaining agreement states the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

However, what remains ambiguous is what officially constitutes lining up as a tight end, which has always been a hybrid between receiver and blocker -- especially in the modern passing game.

For example, one of the NFL's all-time great tight ends, Tony Gonzalez, lined up in the slot or out wide even more than Graham last season (67.3 percent to 66.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said earlier this offseason, "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end. ... That's what makes him valuable."

And Graham identifies himself as a tight end in his own Twitter bio, which the NFL planned to use among its arguments, according to the NFL Network.

The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted the news Tuesday.

Among @NFL's arguments: Jimmy Graham meets in the TE room, lines up where TEs line up... and lists himself as a TE on Twitter (really).

- Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014Graham, who was named a first-team All-Pro tight end last season, has led the NFL with 36 touchdown catches over the past three years, regardless of position. He has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per season over that span.

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