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Analysis: Is Jimmy Graham nearing the end of his time as a Seahawk?

Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham leaps to spike the ball after scoring a touchdown against Philadelphia in 2017. Graham is among several key Seahawks who will become free agents after the team declined to use its franchise tag on Tuesday. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham leaps to spike the ball after scoring a touchdown against Philadelphia in 2017. Graham is among several key Seahawks who will become free agents after the team declined to use its franchise tag on Tuesday. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s comments Monday about how remorseful the team was for its actions at the end of the loss in Jacksonville might have overshadowed his rather direct criticism of tight end Jimmy Graham that also may have cast a light on how the team will approach one of its most interesting offseason decisions.

Asked about Russell Wilson’s three interceptions in Sunday’s game, Carroll flat out laid the blame on Graham for one of them, which came on a throw to Graham 42 yards downfield in a one-on-one situation that was instead picked off by Jacksonville’s A.J. Bouye – a cornerback who is listed as seven inches shorter and 70 pounds lighter.

“Jimmy’s got to make that play, hopefully, for us, where it’s either him or nobody,” Carroll said. “That’s kind of what we are counting on right there.”

The interception came on Seattle’s first possession of the third quarter when the game was just 3-0 and Graham exacerbated the issue by then shoving Bouye late and getting called for a personal foul that gave the Jags the ball at the Seahawks 42. On his radio show Monday on ESPN 710 Seattle, Carroll also sharply criticized Graham’s penalty (as well as a similar one by Germain Ifedi) saying “we can’t give up that kind of margin.”

Jacksonville quickly scored to take a 10-0 lead and the Seahawks were playing catch-up the rest of the game.

When the game ended, Graham had been held without a catch for the first time in his Seattle career (on five other occasions he had one).

And it’s easy to wonder if it threw into even more question whether Graham, whose contract runs out after this season, has a future in Seattle.

If Graham isn’t making the kind of plays that Carroll says are “kind of what we are counting on” and isn’t putting up big numbers, then Seattle may not bother getting involved in any kind of a bidding war for a player who will turn 32 next season and has been an uneasy fit all along.

That Graham has finally scored a bunch of touchdowns this season and become the red zone threat that the team always hoped for – he has a team-high nine touchdowns, which is also already a single-season record for a Seattle tight end – has maybe obscured what his overall production looks like.

Graham has 52 receptions this season, on pace for 64, which would be his fewest in a full season since his rookie year.

More telling is that he has just 473 yards, on pace for 582, which would be his lowest in any season since his rookie year, and 9.1 per reception, his lowest in any season in his career by more than a yard.

In other words, Graham has been productive inside the 20 (or more accurately, the 5, where most of his scores have come from) but otherwise is doing less than ever.

Also, after dropping another pass on Sunday, he now has seven drops for the season, which is tied for second-most in the NFL.

True, Graham’s touchdowns are two more than any other tight end in the NFL, and that is obviously a great value.

But his receptions are eighth among all tight ends in the NFL and his yards are 12th.

Consider that he averaged 55 and 57 yards receiving per game his first two seasons in Seattle but this year has only four games higher than either of those totals and hasn’t had more than 72 yards in any game all season.

And that’s while he’s still the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, making $10 million per year on a contract he signed with New Orleans that the Seahawks inherited when they traded for him in 2015. Next on the list is Kansas City’s Travis Kelcie at $9.368 million.

As Joel Corry, a former agent who now writes about salary cap issues for CBSSports.com, recently noted, Graham probably isn’t going to want to take a pay cut and there certainly seems no reason for him to willingly do so before he finds out what other teams might offer.

But given Graham’s age and how things have gone in Seattle, Corry said it would also seem unlikely the Seahawks would make the kind of big offer to sign Graham before he hit free agency that they have done with other players.

“That’s going to be a hard one,” Corry said. “Their best move may be to let him test the open market and keep the lines of communication open and try to be kept in the loop and see if they can’t have some sort of unofficial matching rights.”

That’s sort of what Seattle did in the past few years with receiver Jermaine Kearse and tight end Luke Willson, who each hit the market and ended up returning, albeit on much smaller deals.

The question, though, may be how hard the Seahawks will work to retain Graham considering his age – will they really want to pay top-of-market for, say, his age 32-34 seasons? – and intermittent production.

Time will tell if Carroll’s comments Monday may have proven to be foreshadowing. Maybe they meant nothing. But Carroll and general manager John Schneider have rarely done anything other than praise Graham publicly even when there were questions about his future and how he was fitting in, including taking the somewhat rare step of publicly denying they might trade him when rumors arose in October.

If Graham were to sign elsewhere in March the Seahawks might get as high as a third-round compensatory pick in 2019, and certainly at least a comp pick somewhere in the middle rounds.

That increasingly seems like a trade the Seahawks might be willing to make.

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