New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham prepares to stop Atlanta Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud during the second half of an NFL football game on Nov. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, March 03, 2014 11:40 AM
It seems more and more likely with each passing day that the NFL, sadly, will be forced to step in for a landmark ruling with the New Orleans Saints.
No, there’s not another Bountygate brewing, least not that we know of.
But, in these more sensitive times, you never can be too careful; you can never be too respectful of others’ feelings.
And in the case of Jimmy Graham, it appears the Saints may be have been guilty of blatant and insensitive stereotyping.
It may have even been premeditated, and there appears to be a paper trail — known in the press box as a “flip card” — and a clear pattern going on four years now.
It’s the kind of the thing the league used to look the other way and let go under the heading of boys being boys, harmless lineup shuffling.
But it’s not 1990 anymore.
We are well into the new millennium. Time for a better understanding of bruised feelings.
No more shameless bullying.
And yet the Saints, from the top of the organization all the way down the lowest towel boy, continue to refer to Graham, in no uncertain terms, as a … “tight end.”
This tale may have begun as another sad case of “rookie hazing,” but has escalated during his second and third years of a promising career and the Saints show no signs of letting up the barrage.
In this new day and age, the NFL “tight end” label may be going the way of the sexist term “stewardess.”
Tight end — tight end — tight end.
This is offensive to Graham, apparently, and for a very good reason.
Graham took the taunts well, by all accounts, for the first three years of his NFL career.
Look him up on Twitter and you’ll find his chatty account, sanctioned by him, under the handle, “New Orleans Saints Tight End #80.”
Maybe he was just trying not to rock the boat. Trying to get along in the macho-macho world of the NFL lineup card.
But now Graham — and mostly his agent, Jimmy Sexton — are highly offended by the mere mention of the word.
They don’t think Graham should be pigeon-holed into a term, which in some (mostly financial) circles can be deemed offensive.
Graham is, we are told, so much more than just a lowly tight end.
Human being. Humanitarian. Bachelor. Licensed 6-foot-7 airplane pilot. Ex-Miami Hurricane. Reformed nondescript basketball player and unrepentant goalpost dunker and occasional bender. Spokesperson for Smoothie King. Mostly, though … wide receiver.
Sexton, whose most famous client is Nick Saban, is expected to argue before some sort of NFL tribunal that Graham is not, however, a tight end.
It was OK, socially acceptable even, when Graham was identified as threatening to break several NFL records under the heading “tight end.”
It was OK when he was named All-Pro as a tight end.
Just don’t put any mention of tight end on the pay stub.
Actually, the most offensive tag the Saints might put on Graham is the dreaded “franchise tag.”
Graham was a relative unknown coming out of Miami, and the Saints got his services these last four years for average annual salary of $600,000, a pittance in NFL circles, maybe the biggest bargain in sports these past four years.
Now Graham’s original contract is up, and it’s time to pay the piper — also the player and the agent.
The Saints, if it was totally up to them, might even be willing to empty the vault and pay Graham whatever he wants. But there’s the NFL salary cap to think about, and luxury items like Drew Brees don’t come cheap.
There seems to be little hope that the two sides will agree on a long-term contract anytime soon.
That’s where the NFL and the “franchise tag” comes in, just for these indelicate situations.
The Saints have “tagged” Graham while negotiations continue.
It allows a team to sign a “franchise” player to a one-year contract for a sum equal to the average of the five highest players in the league at his particular position.
The player doesn’t have to sign it, but he can’t play anywhere for any price while it’s on him.
That’s when the term tight end went beyond hurting Graham’s feelings and threatened to hurt his cash flow.
High-end, luxury model tight ends like Graham are rare. The wide receivers, now that’s where the real bling is.
And, if Sexton can convince the NFL that Graham is actually utilized more like a wide receiver than a tight end, it could mean a lot more money for Graham short-term under the formula.
The difference, according to Pro Football Talk, would be a little more than $7 million as a tight end as opposed to $12.3 million as a wide receiver.
Either is a hefty raise, but it’s hard to blame Graham for wishing to make up for some of the discount he played the last few years at.
At any rate, the “franchise tag” only puts off the deadline for haggling for a year.
The Saints can continue to negotiate a long-term contract with Graham until July 15, which is what happened before Brees finally signed long-term two years ago.
It would behoove the Saints to quit dickering with position semantics and get that done.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org