"Jimmy Graham is officially a tight end. Two weeks after a hearing to determine his status, his roster spot was solidified by third-party arbitrator Stephen Burbank, the NFL confirmed Wednesday morning.
"Graham's camp can appeal the decision to a three-person panel if it chooses to do so, but for now, the Saints have gained a major piece of leverage in long-term contract negotiations with Graham.
"Burbank oversaw two days of testimony, which took place June 17-18 in Metairie. Lawyers for the NFL Players' Association, who represented Graham, and the NFL Management Council, who represented the Saints, argued their respective cases during the hearing.
"'In sum, I conclude that Mr. Graham was at the position of tight end for purposes of Article 10, Section 2(a)(i), when, at the snap, he was aligned adjacent to or 'arms-length' from the nearest offensive lineman and also when he was aligned in the slot, at least if such alignment brought him within four yards of such lineman,' Burbank said in conclusion of his full decision.
"'Since Mr. Graham was so aligned for a majority of plays during the 2013 League Year, the NFLPA's request for 'a declaration that the correct tender for Mr. Graham is at the wide receiver position is denied.'
"The NFLPA filed a grievance on Graham's behalf May 7, contending he had incorrectly been given a tight end franchise tag by the NFL Management Council. Graham's camp and the NFLPA argued he should have been given a wide receiver franchise tag instead.
"The wide receiver tag, with its one-year salary of about $12 million is signifcantly higher than the $7 million tight end tag.
"'The NFLPA will review with Jimmy Graham the decision from Arbitrator Stephen Burbank which permits the player to be designated as a tight end for Franchise Tag purposes,' the players' union said in a statement. 'We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter.
"'We will also continue to assist Graham and his representation as necessary to help the player reach a fair long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints.'
"Saints coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and former (Indianapolis) Colts general manager Bill Polian were among those to testify on behalf of the Saints.
"Burbank agreed with the NFLPA that Graham's use within the Saints offense in 2013 actually placed Graham in 'no man's land' for the majority of the snaps. 'The same stipulated evidence shows that for a majority of plays he was neither 'tight' nor 'wide' in the traditional sense, but somewhere in between,' Burbank said.
"Burbank later stated, though, 'The evidence supports findings that since the early 1960s, clubs have deployed tight ends in multiple locations during the same period many tight ends have often lined up in a flexed position more than two yards from the offensive tackle, and tight ends often line up in the slot.'"
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling also confirms Burbank's ruling on Graham:
"Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled Wednesday that New Orleans Saints star Jimmy Graham is indeed a tight end, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Media's Albert Breer.
"The Collective Bargaining Agreement allows Graham to appeal the decision to a three-member Appeals Panel within 10 days of the decision. The NFLPA announced in a statement they will 'carefully determine next steps in this matter.'
"Graham had filed a grievance arguing that he deserved to be designated as a wide receiver under the franchise tag because he spent more time out wide and in the slot than at the line of the scrimmage, as tight ends did in the past.
"Burbank concluded that Graham was aligned close enough to the line of scrimmage (four yards) for a majority of plays to be disqualified from the wide-receiver designation. Essentially, the slot doesn't count as out wide for franchise-tag purposes.
"The decision will set a precedent for future disputes."