Graham Left Wanting S’more Changes the NFL Landscape
Jimmy Graham, the all-world, freak of nature crap my pants if I saw him in an alley tight end for the New Orleans Saints lost a major grievance hearing. This is truly fascinating news for the league landscape.
Tight end is the defining position for this era of football. The combination of size, speed, strength, and coordination that the modern tight end possesses is a skill set unlike anything to ever take the field. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski—the league is overrun with physical specimens that have changed a once marginalized position into a centerpiece offensive threat.
Naturally, Chip Kelly is on this trend like a Columbian drug-sniffing dog. Brent Celek, James Casey, and most importantly, Zach Ertz are players that are constantly moved around the formation in hopes of creating a strategic advantage. In short, it’s a very effective strategy. Kelly’s offense was second in the league in overall production and produced more big plays than anyone else. The tight end position was a strong, yet more silent partner in that process.
So, now that Jimmy Graham has officially been ruled a tight end for franchise tag purposes I’m expecting a trend that will occur throughout the league and effect the Eagles specifically. Essentially, the tight end position will near extinction.
As much as it’s nice to see someone complete a career in one town and take a discount for the sake of the team, it’s not the norm. Players want to get paid. There’s nothing wrong with that. As a result, I think it’s more likely that we see these versatile tight ends lobby to be listed as receivers.
From a tactical standpoint nothing changes. They’ll still be able to line up next to the tackle, fill the h-back role, and run post routes to their freakishly-sized heart’s desire. By doing so, tight ends would simply be a subset of wide receiver in the same way that a power forward could be a post guy or a stretch four. From a league standpoint I don’t believe that there’s any rules proclaiming that a tight end must be on the roster so the title change doesn’t have an impact there either.
The issue of course all comes down to money. Guys like Zach Ertz would make more greenbacks in their second or third contracts with a receiver designation because in the same way that receiving is part of being a tight end, blocking is part of the receiver’s game as well. The versatile tight ends would make more money from the franchise tag and in the market as a whole.
On top of all of this, there’s an interesting byproduct that comes from this migration to the receiver position. We’ll see more volatile player/team relationships. Rather than having the standard problem of determining a player’s value through the course of the season, teams with premier tight ends will likely have to negotiate their player’s status before the season starts. If the Eagles were to be stubborn about considering a guy like Zach Ertz to be a receiver, then their choice could be a death sentence. Such a player would likely look to play for a team that offers the designation and potential for higher pay. On the flip side, by designating a tight end as a receiver, the increased dollars that flow in from the franchise tag would grease the wheels of a long-term contract. A player like Ertz would feel more appreciated.
Therefore, while the Saints may have won in the short-term, they might have just cost themselves Jimmy Graham’s prime.