SEATTLE – To no surprise, Jimmy Graham isn’t returning to Seattle.
To some surprise, he is instead signing with the Green Bay Packers, according to multiple reports Tuesday afternoon. Graham was reported to have agreed to a three-year deal, though financial terms had not yet been revealed.
While the Packers had been mentioned as a possible suitor for Graham, there had been a growing thought in the last day or so that he would return to his old home in New Orleans.
Instead, he will join Aaron Rodgers with the Packers as Green Bay for the three straight year takes a shot at a high-profile free agent tight end – the Packers signed Martellus Bennett a year ago and Jared Cook two years ago with neither working out and the Packers remaining in the market for a receiving tight end.
It’s been thought for a while now that Graham would not be back in Seattle and it’s not thought Graham gave much consideration to staying or that Seattle made a real aggressive effort to make him stay. The team declined to place a franchise tag on Graham that would have meant paying him more than $15 million in 2018 – he had made $10 million a season the last four years when he was the highest-paid tight end in the NFL each year.
And with Graham moving on, the curtain closes on one of the biggest trades in Seattle history but one that never really worked out the way either side anticipated.
Seattle acquired Graham for center Max Unger and a first-round pick on March 10, 2015 (also getting a fourth-round pick in return), roughly a month after the shocking end to Super Bowl XLIX, a game that the team felt highlighted what had been one of its more glaring issues that season – scoring in the red zone (the Seahawks ranked 20th in scoring touchdowns when in the red zone in 2014 at 51.52 percent, despite leading the NFL in rushing that season, something that also played into the ill-fated decision to pass from the 1-yard line against the Patriots in the first place).
Seattle thought the 6-7, 265-pound Graham would be the perfect solution to that problem and also had been increasingly worried about the future of Unger, who played just six regular season games in 2014 due to injuries and had also missed three games the season before.
But in the way a few-too-many things have broken for Seattle since the back-to-back Super Bowls, Unger has missed only one game in three years while helping to solidify the offensive line for the Saints while Graham’s career never really took the way either he or the Seahawks hoped.
Graham actually caught a touchdown pass in his first game at St. Louis, and another in week three in 2015 against the Bears. But he didn’t catch another TD the rest of his first season and had just one 100-yard-plus receiving game (140 against Carolina) before his season ended in week 11 when he suffered a patella tendon injury against the Steelers.
A lengthy rehab led to a stunted beginning to his 2016 season (he basically had no real practice time in training camp) and he caught just four passes in the first two games of that year before turning in what was the best stretch of his Seattle career. Graham caught 12 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown in wins over the 49ers and Jets in weeks three and four of the 2016 season and the thought that Graham and the Seahawks had finally formed a fruitful relationship began to emerge.
But Graham would have just one more 100-yard game the rest of his Seahawks career – an eight-catch, 103-yard, two-TD game in a Monday night win against Buffalo in week eight.
Over Graham’s last 24 games with Seattle he caught 84 passes for 898 yards and 12 touchdowns, production worse than most of his 16-game seasons with the Saints.
Graham caught 10 touchdowns in 2017 – leading the Seahawks and setting a team record for single-season TD receptions by a tight end. But otherwise the season was something of a washout as he had just 57 catches for 520 yards – a career-low average of 9.1 per reception – and was tied for second in the NFL in drops with seven.
It says something about the Seahawks’ history of tight ends that Graham will still leave as the best in team history – he made two Pro Bowls, the only Seattle tight end ever so honored, and his 170 receptions for 2.048 yards and 18 touchdowns are all Seahawks’ franchise career records.
But while his Seattle career is history, he’ll be back soon as the Seahawks will host the Packers at CenturyLink Field in 2018.
Graham is the second Seattle offensive starter from 2017 who will be moving on as receiver Paul Richardson agreed earlier in the day to a five-year deal with Washington.
The question now is what Seattle does at tight end. Seattle has only two on its roster in Nick Vannett and Tyrone Swoopes, who spent most of last season on the practice squad.
Luke Willson is also a free agent and has said he would be open to returning.
But Seattle also will be looking to the free agent market for other possibilities. Seattle is known to be interested in former UW Husky standout Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But reports surfaced almost immediately after Graham agreed with the Packers that the Saints could turn to Seferian-Jenkins as a cheaper option and that he also could remain with the Jets, who have more cap room now that they know they are not getting Kirk Cousins.
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