Graham ruling coming Thursday

Updated: June 30, 2014, 5:37 PM ET
By Adam Schefter and Mike Triplett | ESPN.com

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank expects to inform both sides of his ruling on Jimmy Graham's franchise-tag grievance on Thursday -- "no sooner, no later" -- a source told ESPN on Monday.

Graham is attempting to be officially declared a wide receiver instead of a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. If he wins, the New Orleans Saints will have to increase their one-year offer from $7.05 million to $12.13 million.

Either party can appeal Burbank's decision. But in the meantime, the winner will gain critical leverage in their long-term contract negotiations. The Saints and Graham have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement or else Graham can play under only a one-year deal this season.

Burbank heard arguments from both the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association during a hearing in the New Orleans area on June 17 and 18. Both sides were asked to submit final briefs to Burbank on Friday, according to a source.

Saints coach Sean Payton was among those testifying on the NFL's behalf, a source confirmed. According to Pro Football Talk, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian also testified in support of the position that Graham should be considered a tight end, while former NFL coach Butch Davis and former Saints receiver Lance Moore testified in support of the position that Graham should be considered a wide receiver.

Graham's argument is that he should be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide 67 percent of the time last season. The collective bargaining agreement states the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

What remains ambiguous, however, is what officially constitutes lining up as a tight end, which has always been a hybrid between receiver and blocker -- especially in the modern passing game.

For example, Tony Gonzalez, one of the NFL's all-time great tight ends, lined up in the slot or out wide even more than Graham last season (67.3 percent to 66.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

Loomis said earlier this offseason, "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end. ... That's what makes him valuable."

Graham identifies himself as a tight end in his Twitter bio, which the NFL planned to use among its arguments, according to the NFL Network.

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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