Apparently it’s not enough to win a grievance hearing a player brought against your team and save $5 million in the process. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the New Orleans Saints aren’t “thrilled” by the rationale behind arbitrator Stephen Burbank’s ruling that Jimmy Graham is a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag.
Florio had this to say in a post over the weekend. And he makes some solid points.
Per a source with knowledge of the team’s position, the Saints disagree with the notion that the question of tight end vs. receiver boils down to whether the player lines up most of the time within four yards of an offensive tackle. As the Saints see it, a tight end is a tight end no matter where he lines up or how often he lines up there.
Does it really matter where a tight end lines up if he’s covered by safeties and linebackers a vast majority of the time? If not, the Saints’ and other NFL teams who might face similar grievances in coming years, don’t have a lot to worry about.
If it does matter, the ambiguity surrounding Burbank’s ruling could open up a can of worms.
Other potential franchise tight ends could very well argue that lining up wide (outside of the four-yard mark) means that they are called tight ends in name only. Current tight ends that have lined up wide at times include Vernon Davis, who is also in the midst of a contract battle with the San Francisco 49ers. Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos are two other tight ends potentially hitting franchise status within the next few years.
This gets a tad tricky, as Florio suggests.
Because most teams defend tight ends when in man coverage with a linebacker or a safety, the use of a linebacker or a safety to cover a tight end when he’s in the slot or split wide means that the defense is showing man-to-man coverage before the snap. If the tight end lines up in the slot or wide and a cornerback lines up on him, the defense is conveying a zone look.
Based on how defenses are playing the pass, opposing offenses make adjustments. That’s where lining up the tight end more than four yards off the tackle might make sense to offenses that are looking to spread defenses wide.
In any event, this is definitely something to keep in mind. While New Orleans did win its hearing against Graham, the ultimate rationale for said decision might have more wide-ranging ramifications around the league.