Jimmy Graham hearing on June 17-18

METAIRIE, La. -- We're one step closer to finding out whether the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham should officially be considered a tight end or wide receiver.

The grievance hearing over Graham's franchise-tag designation has been scheduled for June 17-18, according to a league source. It's unclear whether a third-party arbitrator has been selected.

At stake is how much the Saints will be required to pay Graham under the franchise tag. The NFL's management council declared Graham a tight end when he was franchised in early March, requiring the Saints to offer him a one-year salary of $7.035 million.

Graham, however, filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association last week asking to be declared a receiver -- a position that comes with a franchise-tag salary of $12.3 million.

More importantly, the arbitrator's decision would give one side a tremendous amount of leverage in their long-term contract negotiations.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis declined to answer specific questions about the pending debate over the weekend, but he did say the Saints' side of the argument will be handled by the management council.

"Obviously we get consulted and talked with," Loomis said. "But that's the management council's duty."

The players' association will present Graham's case. The sides will agree on the selection of the arbitrator.

Graham's argument will be that he should officially be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last season.

It's a compelling debate that has come up in recent years with hybrid tight end/receivers like Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley, but it has never reached the point of a grievance hearing.

Similarly, Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs filed a grievance in 2008 over whether he should be considered a linebacker or defensive end. Before an arbitrator ruled, all parties agreed to split the difference in the salaries.

It's possible the Saints and Graham work out a similar compromise. Or they could work out a long-term contract extension in the meantime and avoid the need for a hearing altogether.

The deadline for franchised players to sign long-term deals with their teams is July 15.