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Jul 2, 2014 1:43 PM by Dave Fields

Arbitrator: Graham is a franchise tight end, not wide receiver

NFL Network sources are reporting Wednesday that Jimmy Graham is a franchise tight end, not a wide receiver, according to a ruling by NFL arbitrator Stephen Burbank.

The ruling is projected to save the New Orleans Saints as much as $5 million. The Saints' franchise tight-end designation allows the team lock Graham into preset contract amounts--if the arbitrator rules in the Saints favor--in 2014 and 2015 of $7.034 million and $8.44 million respectively.

Graham had hoped the arbitrator would side with his case because he had lined up in the slot or as a wideout at least two-thirds of the snaps last year for the Saints. Graham, now entering his fifth season, hasn't participated in the team's offseason activities. In his absence, veteran Benjamin Watson and second-year pro Josh Hill divided up all offseason work at tight end.

Had Burbank ruled in the receiver's favor, Graham's contract would be required to increase to $12.3 million. Indications are that, despite Burbank's ruling, the team and Graham likely will pursue a long-term deal that could exceed the current $9 million per year currently earned by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

NFL Network analysts have discussed whether or not the league should include a future designation for "hybrid" tight ends, such as Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, and several others.

The arbitration hearing included testimony from Saints Head Coach Sean Payton as well as Graham's own online twitter profile in which the the New Orleans Pro-Bowler calls himself a "tight end."

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