If Vernon Davis is holding out from training camp in hopes of being paid like a wide receiver, he might as well suit up now.
That’s money he’s not getting.
Tight ends are tight ends. Wide receivers are wide receivers. There’s not be much of a difference between the two in today’s offenses — both line up wide, both get the same amount of looks from their quarterbacks, both are vital in fantasy football — but there is a difference.
An NFL arbitrator said as much Wednesday when he ruled Saints super star Jimmy Graham is a tight end, not a wide receiver, for franchise tag purposes. Shortly after the saints placed a franchise tag on him earlier this year, Graham argued he should receive a wide receiver’s salary ($12.3 million) as opposed to a tight end’s ($7.05 million) because he played two-thirds of his snaps while lined up like a wide receiver in 2013. Never mind the fact he can’t block.
Graham led the league with 16 touchdown receptions and had the 13th most catches and 15th most receiving yards (1,215). Regardless of his numbers, regardless of the fact NFL rules state positions are determined based on how many snaps a player took at that position in the previous year, he still needs to be paid like a tight end. And while Graham is set to become the highest paid tight end in the league — he and the Saints have until July 15 to agree on a new contract — his salary still might not be on par with that of elite wideouts.
Why? Stephen Burbank, the arbitrator who ruled on Graham after a two-day hearing, said it comes down to “physical attributes and skill sets” more so than where a player lines up. Which, to me, makes no sense because you’re essentially penalizing a pass-catcher, who’s just as productive as the other pass-catchers, because he has a different body type.
Graham is 6 feet 7, 265 pounds and runs a 4.53-second 40-yard dash. If he can’t be paid like a wide receiver, what hope do other tight ends have? They’re already at a loss as tight ends, and salaries are based on market value. No tight end has more market value than Graham, not even Davis, an athletic freak himself.
Davis, who in 2010 signed a five-year, $37 million deal that made him the highest paid tight end in the league, is currently the third highest paid tight end behind Jason Witten and Rob Gronkowski. Graham is the fourth. While all four tight ends have earned substantial incomes, they are nowhere near the kind of money being pulled in by Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin and Dwayne Bowe. Again, because they have different bodies.
You can understand why tight ends around the league were following Graham’s hearing closely.
“I pray that Jimmy Graham passes as a wide receiver. Because at the end of the day, if he passes as a wide receiver, that’s better for the rest of the tight ends,” Davis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He will have opened up a door, a pathway for the rest of the group.”
You can also understand why some tight ends were disappointed with Burbank’s ruling.
Check out Browns tight end Jordan Cameron’s Twitter bio:
— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) July 2, 2014
It’ll be interesting to see what Davis does from here. He has already put in a bad spot to negotiate — no one likes a pouter — and doesn’t have nearly as much leverage as he would have had Burbank ruled in favor of Graham.
To me, the best thing Davis can do is get back to work.
Follow Scott on Twitter @SJAdams
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