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With another deadline in a deadline-driven league hitting Monday, NFL teams didn't exactly flood the fax lines or jam email in-boxes in placing franchise tags on potential free agents.

Washington's designation on linebacker Brian Orakpo was the only franchise tag issued on D-day, bringing the total to four — third-fewest in a year since this system was established more than two decades ago — after weekend transactions tagged Greg Hardy, Jimmy Graham and Nick Folk.

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There were just three tags in 2006, only two in 1994. Now this.

Just don't consider the lack of tags to equate to lack of impact.

The case involving Graham, surely headed to an arbitrator, has the potential to be a game-changer — or at the very least a drawn-out negotiation for a long-term deal.

The New Orleans Saints tagged Graham as a tight end. He was named first-team All-Pro last season at tight end. He's listed as a tight end.

Yet Graham is really, for all practical purposes, a wide receiver.

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That's how he is primarily used in Sean Payton's wide-open offense. He's a big receiver who more often than not lines up in the slot or flanked wide, agile enough that the New England Patriots assigned their top cornerback, Aqib Talib, to cover Graham when matching up during a game in October.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Graham was used as a receiver on 67% of the snaps last season, when he posted a team-high 86 receptions for 1,215 yards, with 16 TDs.

The franchise tag for a receiver would guarantee Graham a salary of $12.132 million in 2014, which is the average of the top five wideouts . The tag for a tight end guarantees $7.053 million.

There's a not-so-slight difference to be settled.

"We have been in touch with Jimmy and his agent," NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah told USA TODAY Sports on Monday night. "If they believe that the franchise tag was applied unfairly, we are prepared to act."

Hello, arbitration.

The franchise tag is best used as a bridge to a long-term deal. Yet it's an essential starting point and could provide the leverage for Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, to aim for a contract that far exceeds the $9 million average that Rob Gronkowski got from the Patriots as the league's highest-paid tight end. It would be unrealistic to expect Graham to approach the $16.207 million average that Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson collects. But with a receiver tag, he will be better equipped to land a deal somewhere in between.

In any event, it could be a landmark test of a revision that the NFLPA had written into the collective bargaining agreement in 2011. The new language stipulates that the tag should be applied for the position at which the player participated in the most plays during the previous season. In the previous CBA, the tag reflected the position where a player played the most games during the previous season.

That change is why Graham has a chance at winning this fight.

You can't blame Graham for trying to gain leverage in the not-for-long environment of the NFL. He caught 270 passes over the past three years and, after entering the league as a third-round pick, averaged $825,756 per season. He's dealing for his second contract, and it's time to get paid. There is no guarantee that he will negotiate for a third contract under similar conditions.

Of course, Graham isn't the first player to challenge the tag on the grounds of his role. In 2008, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs contended that his tag should have been based on the more lucrative defensive end position, before striking a compromise on a long-term deal.

It's important when considering not only how the tight end position has evolved in a game with heavy specialization packages and hybrid schemes. Some tight ends are pretty much oversized wideouts, others are undersized tackles valued for their blocking. And some linebackers, as Suggs argued, are really defensive ends moving forward rather than backwards on most snaps.

The tweaked CBA was something of a compromise, too, with the union realizing, Atallah said, that owners were not going to give up the franchise tag. Getting the stipulation for the language, in addition to increased compensation for applying successive tags on a player, made the tag more favorable for players — a victory in a deal that to this point has tilted toward the owners.

Yet the fact that there were just four franchise tags used this year could reflect the changing landscape in another manner. Two years ago, in the first year of the new CBA, 21 players were tagged. That dipped to eight last year, and now that number has been halved.

NFL teams still have the option of using the tag, but it's become more evident with the newest stipulations that the tag may not be what it used to be.

For some players, that's a good thing. For others, the market will provide the final answer.

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