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Dennis Pitta supports Jimmy Graham, doesn't understand devaluing tight end position

Graham could contest being labeled a tight end with the franchise tag.

Dennis Pitta will support Jimmy Graham if he decides to file a grievance with the NFL.
Dennis Pitta will support Jimmy Graham if he decides to file a grievance with the NFL.
Chris Graythen

Though Dennis Pitta doesn't have a stake in it anymore, he's entered the debate of how to classify receiving-first tight ends.

Pitta signed a five-year, $32 million deal last Friday and will be with the Ravens for quite some time. But if the Ravens were forced to place the franchise tag on him, there would have most likely been a wait-and-see approach to how Saints tight end Jimmy Graham dealt with ongoing negotiations.

The Saints just placed the franchise tag on Graham, who has become one of the NFL's top players at the position (if not the NFL's premier tight end). Except there's one question with that statement: Is Graham really a tight end at this point?

The Saints mostly split Graham off of the line of scrimmage, lining him up in the slot or out wide 67 percent of the time during the 2013 season. However, there's a big difference in what the franchise tag value is for wide receivers and tight ends.

For receivers in 2014, the tag value is $12.321 million. For tight ends, it's $7.05 million. Seems like a big gap for a player as talented and valuable as Graham.

Asked about the issue on Wednesday at his press conference, Pitta offered his two cents:

"It's an intriguing debate, and I'm a little bit biased in my opinion, obviously," Pitta said. "I think in football it's interesting because you get labeled as something. Take Jimmy Graham for example: He gets labeled as a tight end, and for whatever reason, that somehow decreases his value. I don't understand that part of it. I think he's been a top producer in this league, certainly on his team, [and] led his team in catches, yards, touchdowns. Why all of a sudden, because he's labeled as a tight end, does that devalue his stock? That's something that I think — and more power to him — I think it's something that he should challenge because it's not right that he can catch more touchdowns and more yards than maybe someone who is classified as a wide receiver, yet because he has that tight end label, now all of a sudden his value is cut in half."

With the NFL determining he would be franchised as a tight end, Graham is expected to file a grievance to classify himself as a wide receiver with the league.

Pitta could be on to something here. With Graham's production in New Orleans, it may make sense to group certain tight ends with receivers. And then it could also start the conversation as to revamping the franchise tag designations, to make them fairer to market value for certain individuals.

But then there's this note: In 2013, Graham led the Saints in receiving with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sure, that's a ton for a tight end, but it doesn't crack the top 10 for receivers.

The franchise tag number is no less than the average of the top five salaries at the position.

The top five receivers in 2014 in yards were Josh Gordon (1,646 yards, nine touchdowns), Antonio Brown (1,499 yards, eight touchdowns), Calvin Johnson (1,492 yards, 12 touchdowns), Demaryius Thomas (1,430 yards, 14 touchdowns) and A.J. Green (1,426 yards, 11 touchdowns).

Then again, to play Devil's Advocate to this Devil's Advocate, Graham's 16 receiving touchdowns were a league-best in 2013.

So Pitta's point does hold merit in terms of value. Graham is the best player on that Saints' roster behind Drew Brees. But should he be classified as a wide receiver? Maybe not. With the way the game has changed, more tight ends are becoming receiving weapons and that's just something players are going to have to deal with.

One way for the franchise tag number for tight ends to increase will be for tight ends to begin demanding higher contracts. Between Graham, New England's Rob Gronkowski, San Francisco's Vernon Davis, and other receiving options at the position, that number could rise over the next few years as they negotiate new contracts.

So maybe this debate in 2014 won't be an issue five years from now. It could be a situation where the market corrects the discrepancy over time.

Either way, Pitta is supporting his fellow tight end with his quest for fair value. And his points certainly hold merit.