June 18, 2014 at 10:56 am

Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron following Jimmy Graham arbitration closely

The Lions selected Eric Ebron, above, 10th overall in May's draft, and with veteran Brandon Pettigrew already secure in a blocking tight end role, Ebron will often line up as a wide receiver. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron will be paying close attention to the result of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's arbitration hearing this week.

Graham, a first-team All-Pro in 2013, is arguing he should be paid as a wide receiver after catching 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns while primarily lining up in the slot last season.

The Saints used the franchise tag on Graham this March as a tight end, but the NFL Players Association will argue he should receive the tag as a receiver. The tight end tag would pay Graham $7.035 million in 2014 compared to $12.3 million as a wide receiver.

Graham lines up as a receiver more than a tight end, but he's covered by safeties and linebackers more often than cornerbacks. The ruling will set a precedent for the new breed of athletic tight ends in the NFL like Ebron.

"Really Interested To See What Happens To Jimmy Graham," Ebron tweeted Wednesday morning.

Ultimately, the arbitration process is a way for the league to define Graham's value as he and the Saints try to reach a long-term deal. The two sides can negotiate a long-term deal until July 15.

The Lions selected Ebron 10th overall in May's draft, and with veteran Brandon Pettigrew already secure in a blocking tight end role, Ebron will often line up as a wide receiver. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also spent the past seven years with the Saints, so he will likely employ Ebron similarly to Graham.

Ebron signed his four-year contract last week, which includes a team option for a fifth year, so no matter the result, the rookie has some time before a similar process could occur.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com
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