It appears the New Orleans Saints carefully monitored the use of tight end Jimmy Graham in to prevent them from having to use the wide receiver franchise tag on him this offseason if the team is unable to work out a long-term deal.

But only during the regular season.

According to stats kept by Pro Football Focus, Graham lined up in the slot or at wide receiver 49.8 percent of the time during the regular season. The rule on the franchise tag states that a player must be tagged at the position which he plays the most.

However, during the playoffs, Graham lined up in the slot or split wide 69.6 percent of the time. That raised the overall percentage of time he played in the slot or at wide receiver to 52 percent in the 2013 season.
That could create a massive debate over whether Graham gets a tag of more than $10 million or one that’s closer to $6 million. In 2013, the franchise tag for wide receivers was $10.53 million. For tight ends, it was $6.06 million.

For the Saints, that would be a significant issue because the team is currently projected to be more than $10 million over the salary cap this offseason before making any moves. Aside from Graham, the team has safety Malcolm Jenkins up for free agency.

But Graham’s leverage on a long-term deal will be drastically impacted by his franchise tag. Graham’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, is expected to ask the Saints for a record contract for tight ends. However, the amount of the franchise tag could impact his demand.

The issue of play-time percentage for tight ends was a factor last year when Tennessee toyed with the idea of putting the tight end franchise tag on Jared Cook, who played more than half the time in the slot or split wide. Ultimately, the Titans backed off the idea and allowed Cook to be-come a free agent. He then signed with St. Louis.

In 2012, Graham played more than 65 percent of all downs in the slot or split wide. That was more than Cook.

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