Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Impending free agent Eric Decker recently came out and said it's not about the money.
With all the dough athletes make these days, it's refreshing to hear Decker say something like that.
Of course, not everyone shares Decker's opinion.
For Jimmy Graham, it's DEFINITELY about the money. So much so that he's willing to give up the title of "league's best tight end" to make a few extra bucks.
That's right. Graham is turning his back on the entire tight end brotherhood for the sake of capitalism.
With Graham set to become a free agent, the Saints are toying with the idea of giving him the franchise tag. That would pay Graham about $6.7 million IF the league classifies him as a tight end.
I say "if" because there is another option. Graham and his reps are fully prepared to argue that the 27-year-old is actually, despite what we've been told for the last four years, a wide receiver.
This betrayal actually makes sense financially for Graham, who would receive roughly $11.5 million if he's tagged as a wide receiver. That's almost nine times what Graham made in 2013 ($1.323 million).
But is Graham's argument valid? Surprisingly, yes. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Graham lined up as a tight end on only 33.2 percent of his snaps last season. The rest of the time he was either out wide or working out of the slot.
If Graham is only being used as a tight end one third of the time, why haven't the Saints cut him a $11.5 million check already?
Well, you see it's not that simple. If Graham isn't a tight end, then neither are Dennis Pitta and Antonio Gates. Both of them lined up at wideout on more than 50 percent of their snaps last season. In total, 11 players carried this distinction in 2013.
So in theory, 11 players could make the same argument as Graham. I know the NFL brings in a lot of money but we can't pay ALL these guys like they're wideouts, can we?
Luckily for owners, this dilemma doesn't come into play very often. Since franchise-tagging began in 2007, only five of the 80 players tagged have been tight ends. And none of those names (Fred Davis, Marcedes Lewis, L.J. Smith, Bo Scaife and Dallas Clark) carry as much weight as Graham's.
Now let's pretend the league says, "You know what? You're right, Jimmy. From now on, we're calling you a wide receiver. Never again will we classify you as a tight end. Here's $11.5 million for your troubles."
Do I think this will actually happen? Of course not. Jared Cook made the same argument last year and the league laughed in his face. Ultimately Cook wasn't franchised but if he had been, he almost certainly would have been paid like a tight end.
But for fantasy purposes, it's an interesting possibility to consider.
Fantasy football is not like other sports where position eligibility influences strategy. Aside from a few novelties like Dexter McCluster and Joe Webb, the vast majority of NFL players are limited to just one position. So if Graham does become a wide receiver, it's unlikely he'd be able to hold on to his tight end eligibility.
If we're going by last year's stats, Graham outscored the second-best tight end, Vernon Davis, by 55 fantasy points (standard scoring). That's like being alone on top of Mount Everest.
But if we drop Graham into the wide receiver pool, his stats lose some of their luster. Graham's 211 points in 2013 would make him the fourth-highest scorer among wide receivers. That puts him behind Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson and just ahead of Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green.
We see this scenario unfold a lot in baseball. Robinson Cano is probably not the third-best player in MLB. But because the difference between him and the next best second baseman is so enormous, you'll see him drafted third overall in many fantasy leagues.
Same goes for Graham, who was taken sixth in a mock draft done by CBS fantasy experts earlier this month. A.J. Green's numbers are comparable to Graham's but because he's a wide receiver, he wasn't drafted until 21st overall. It's too early to know what the auction prices will be for these two players but certainly Graham would take a hit if he loses his tight end eligibility.
Perhaps I'm not giving the other tight ends in the league enough credit. Graham's placement as a top-ten pick seems accurate, though I'd venture sixth might be a little too high (I'd take Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and possibly Marshawn Lynch ahead of him). Still, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas both carry third-round value while Vernon Davis could make sense as early as round four. With that kind of talent available, it's a stretch to say tight end won't be a deep position next year.
But seriously, New Orleans. Pay the man. This is Mount Everest we're talking about.