Unless things change, we can’t imagine Saints coach Sean Payton and Jimmy Graham will be sitting down to break bread together any time soon.
On Wednesday, arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that for the purposes of the franchise tag, Graham is a tight end and not a receiver, a decision reached in part thanks to Payton testifying against his player.
New Orleans franchised Graham, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro last season, and Graham filed a grievance, arguing that given where he lines up on the field and how he’s used in the Saints’ offense, he should receive the tag amount for wide receivers ($12.312 million) and not for tight ends ($7.053 million).
But general manager Mickey Loomis and Payton argued against Graham, and noted that not only does Graham sit in on tight end meetings and is covered mostly by linebackers and safeties during games, not cornerbacks, he calls himself a tight end in his Twitter biography and on Facebook.
By the letter of the law, so to speak, the decision isn’t surprising. But the numbers Graham posts — he had 86 catches for 1,215 yards and an NFL-high 16 touchdowns last year and totaled 270 receptions, 3,507 yards, and 36 touchdowns over the last three seasons — aren’t numbers we’re used to seeing from a tight end. Those are top-level receiver numbers.
Former Buccaneers defensive lineman Stephen White, who now writes for SBNation.com and is a prolific tweeter on football, politics, and pop culture (@sgw94), said there’s no way the relationship between Payton and Graham hasn’t been damaged.
“The only way it wouldn’t hurt their relationship is if they work out a long-term deal before the [July 15] deadline,” White said. “You know your head coach, his argument was critical to you losing this money, and you know you are pretty much the reason why people call [Payton] a genius — if it wasn’t for the things they do with Jimmy Graham, we wouldn’t call Sean Payton a genius all the time.
“I don’t think there’s a way, unless you work out a long-term deal. Now, I always thought it was overblown that players and coaches have to be best friends. They can still have a very productive relationship, it just probably won’t be a close, personal one.”
White believes those who expressed even mild shock over the ruling (Graham has 10 days to appeal, with no word coming by Friday on whether he will) were forgetting the very reason why the franchise tag exists.
“For people who were shocked, I think they just aren’t thinking from the perspective of why we have franchise tags in the first place,” White said. “It’s supposed to make it easier for teams to retain talent, not pay a guy what he’s really worth.
“I understand all of the intellectual arguments for why Jimmy Graham should be paid like a receiver, but that would make it harder for the team to retain him.”
To White, the franchise-tag system is broken, but it’s “broken on purpose” by owners who put it in place and made sure it remained in the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
The monetary difference between being designated as a receiver vs. a tight end is so great that New Orleans could tag Graham again in 2015, which would require it to pay him 120 percent of his salary for 2014, and it would still be far less than what the team would have to pay him as a receiver (the 120 percent figure would be $8.464 million).
“I absolutely see [Graham’s] argument, and I 100 percent back him,” White said. “[But] the system is set up to be unfair, to a certain extent. No one cares your position when you make it to the open market. If he had teams bid on him, he’d obviously make a lot more than he is now with the franchise tag.
“I 100 percent back his argument, I think every guy in his position should make that argument. Positions only matter when you’re talking about Pro Bowl votes and franchise-tag arguments. He transcends his position, but when you’re talking about the franchise tag he’s a tight end.”
White noted that another young player could find himself in a similar fight at some point. Denver lists Von Miller as a linebacker on its roster, but Miller is used more as a defensive end, and when it comes to tag numbers, defensive ends make more than linebackers.
Hoping to not be done in by the same fate as Graham, the Browns’ Jordan Cameron changed his Twitter bio from “Pro Bowl TE” to “Pro Bowl pass catcher” after the arbitrator’s ruling was handed down.
Brady receives high marks in latest poll
The ESPN.com column that declared the Patriots’ Tom Brady to be outside of the league’s top five quarterbacks using some statistical metrics got a lot of play around these parts, in large part because it was a flawed argument that placed Brady behind the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
So a new ESPN.com column, which has Brady still among the very best at the position, should be as loved as the previous one was loathed.
Writer Mike Sando polled 26 men across the league, among them current and former general managers, pro personnel evaluators, head coaches, coordinators, and quarterback coaches, and asked them to rank each of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL on a scale of 1 (the best) to 5 (the worst).
The result? Brady was given a one by 25 of the 26, and was one of five quarterbacks in Tier 1, along with Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Andrew Luck.
The one man who didn’t give him a 1 rating was a tougher grader, and, Sando wrote, focused more on just the 2013 season. Thus, he only gave a 1 to the record-setting Manning.
Sando said none of the evaluators he spoke with believe Brady had “slipped to a significant degree.”
This isn’t news to Patriots followers, but Brady earned kudos from one coach because he continually does more with less.
“Brady might be the best because he does it with the least every year, just about,” the coach said. “To me, there is no falloff with that guy. If he played with what Rodgers and Peyton and Brees have played with, it would not even be close.”
One evaluator told Sando, “Brady did a lot of good things with limited resources, but I saw holes when they put the onus on him to carry it all, as you saw when Denver beat him. Brady has to have more of a running game at this stage. He cannot line up with five wides and win it as consistently as before.
“I still think Brady is a top-five quarterback, but I would not say he is the best right now.”
That was a minority opinion, Sando said, as one coach said Brady, Manning, and Rodgers are pretty much interchangeable.
Statistics certainly have their place — it was an MIT study that led to Bill Belichick going for it on fourth down more often.
Somewhat surprisingly, none of the quarterbacks rated as a Tier 5, but in a bit of bad news for the Jets, Geno Smith, who was a rookie last season, rated 32d of the 32.
Manziel’s social life magnified in this era
Maybe Johnny Manziel was simply born a decade or two too late. Maybe had he been born before everyone with a smartphone could become a paparazzo or before the days of TMZ and Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle, it wouldn’t matter that a rookie quarterback who says he’ll be his team’s Week 1 starter was being photographed partying far more often than he’s been photographed on the field.
(As an aside: Can you imagine if TMZ was around when the 1990s Cowboys were in their glory days, what with the drugs and strippers and Michael Irvin stabbing teammate Everett McIver in the neck with a pair of scissors during training camp over a haircut? TMZ would have had a Dallas bureau just to capture as much of their debauchery as possible.)
But maybe Manziel just has to grow up and realize that to be a starting quarterback in the NFL — a good starting quarterback in the NFL — his days of partying with Justin Bieber and FloydMayweather should come to an end.
We’ve seen players catch flak on Twitter from fans who say they shouldn’t be headed to the movies or some other recreational activity on their day off, and that they should be doing something, anything, football-related 365 days a year. Manziel doesn’t have to go to that extreme.
For better or worse, however, things are different for quarterbacks than other positions, and rightfully so: They’re paid the most, by far. Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who has made a whopping two postseason starts over the first eight years of his career, signed a new contract with the Bears this year that averages $18.1 million a season.
Cutler might not even be one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL.
The fans in Cleveland rejoiced when the Browns drafted Manziel 22d overall, and anticipation is such that the team is requiring fans to reserve space at training camp because demand is so high.
But Manziel will find out quickly that the love they’ve been so quick to show will disappear even quicker if he doesn’t beat out Brian Hoyer to become the starter, and if the Browns don’t win with him at quarterback.
Cleveland brass reportedly told Manziel to cut back on his partying before sending him off for summer break, and Manziel told reporters he had no intention of changing. Just days later, there he was in a photo with Bieber and Mayweather in Beverly Hills. And that was after photos of him clutching a bottle of champagne on an inflatable swan surfaced.
Most people rebel when they’re told what they should and shouldn’t do. Win a few games, get the Browns to the postseason, and no one would fault Manziel for living it up a little. Until then, Johnny, it’s time to get ready for a level of competition unlike any you’ve experienced, at arguably the most pressure-packed position in team sports, in a city desperate to be reminded what it’s like to win again.
League’s rules include some double standards
The NFL is often called the No Fun League, and it lived up to that moniker yet again last week when it banned “nonstandard” facemasks like the multibar styles worn by the Raiders’ Justin Tuck and the Redskins’ Brian Orakpo.
In a release and one-page final report that seemed more theoretical than concrete in the way it was written, the league cited player safety as a concern. Medical research conducted last year on behalf of the NFL concluded that contrary to logic — that a mask with more bars would be safer — doctors found the opposite to be true, and that the masks “could actually increase the risk of injury to both the player wearing it as well as other players on the field.”
The report the league linked to gave four primary concerns, including that the added weight appears to negatively affect the structural integrity of the helmet in impact tests, the added weight can fatigue neck extensors, and the additional material could affect a player’s on-field behavior, giving him a false sense of security.
Despite the research, the decision smacked of yet another example of the NFL’s commitment to making players as generic as possible, and that’s certainly how players saw it.
They can’t wear shoes that are a different color from the rest of their teammates (even for a cause near to their heart, such as Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, who was fined last season for wearing shoes aimed at bringing awareness to mental health issues), their socks have to be just so, they can’t get too excited when they celebrate, and now they can’t wear facemasks that, let’s face it, look pretty darn cool and a bit intimidating.
Arizona’s Darnell Dockett, not exactly a literary master but one of the players who took to wearing one of the beefed-up masks, tweeted to the league, “The facemask issue is just nick picking. I mean please let us have some swagg.”
The NFL can ban facemasks in the interest of safety but has yet to rule out the possibility of an 18-game regular season and the true risk that move would pose to players’ health and safety.
Key injuries, issues for AFC East foes
We are just days into July and still weeks from the regular season, but already it seems like the AFC East is lining up in New England’s favor.
Late last month, Miami Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey underwent hip surgery that will almost certainly mean he’ll miss the season opener against the Patriots and that the Dolphins will start five new players on the offensive line. Even if Pouncey is ready to play by early September, he is still likely facing suspension for his involvement in the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin hazing mess.
And then on Thursday, the NFL announced that Dolphins second-year defensive end Dion Jordan would be suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. One Dolphins beat writer wrote during OTAs that Jordan looked as though he “took an air pump to his arms and shoulders,” but now it’s probably safe to assume the artificial help he got wasn’t from a pump.
Last week, the Bills announced that rising star linebacker Kiko Alonso had torn his ACL while working out in Oregon, and he’ll almost certainly miss the season, with the Buffalo News reporting that the team will look to third-round pick Preston Brown to take Alonso’s spot on the weak side. The Jets haven’t had any major issues so far this offseason, but 26 executives and talent evaluators ranked their quarterback as worst in the league, so maybe they have enough problems.
Babson College, in partnership with The Trust, the NFL Players Association’s program to help players transition out of football, hosted a three-day entrepreneurship training program last week for retired players. Former Patriot Matt Chatham, who received an MBA from Babson in 2011, was among those who spoke . . . A little recognition for Shane Vereen: The Patriots’ running back held a one-day football camp in his native Los Angeles last month, and while it wasn’t free for participants, the fee was a reasonable $30 — all of which went directly to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. More than 130 kids took part, and Vereen also had help from fellow Cal Bear and Patriots teammate Andre Carter.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.