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July 15 looms for Graham, Saints


As the system arbitrator ponders the evidence and prepares to issue a ruling on the question of whether Saints tight end Jimmy Graham should be regarded as a tight end or a receiver for franchise tag purposes, a key date looms on the calendar.

If the Saints and Graham don’t work out a long-term deal by July 15, Graham may sign only a one-year contract.

The only problem? Nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates a final ruling by July 15. Article 15 of the CBA doesn’t impose a specific timetable for the issuance of a decision by the system arbitrator. In theory, the system arbitrator can drag his feet until after the deadline passes.

After a decision is rendered, it won’t be final until the losing party exercises its right to an appeal before a three-person panel. The portion of Article 15 that addresses the appeals process establishes various dates and deadlines for exercising appeal rights and filing briefs and conducting oral argument, but it also allows either side to request an expedited schedule upon a showing of good cause.

It’s unclear whether either side has sought an expedited ruling from the system arbitrator, or whether the arbitrator or the appeals panel would react favorably to such a request from Graham, who didn’t move immediately to file a grievance when the tight end version of the franchise tag was applied to him in February. If he had, the process surely would have finished by now.

Maybe that’s the way Graham wanted it. The absence of a ruling before July 15 could be the best way to nudge the two sides toward resolving the dispute via a long-term contract. That wouldn’t resolve the issue moving forward, which would continue to hover over future pass-catching tight ends who line up wide or in the slot more than they line up tight to the tackle.

Still, an agreement between the Saints and Graham would be the best outcome for both sides, even if it causes the ambiguity to linger for every other team.