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Jimmy Graham trade rumors: Competitive teams that could afford him

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, rumors cropped up that the Seahawks would be willing to trade Jimmy Graham before Tuesday’s deadline for the right return. That return could include a left tackle, but perhaps just as important is the salary cap relief that Seattle could get by dealing Graham, the third-highest paid tight end in the league this year at $10 million. Already paid a $2 million roster bonus and $100k workout bonus, Graham has a salary of $7.9 million with $4.1 million remaining on his deal after Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans. (Nod to our own John Gilbert for helping with the math.)

“That’s alotta dough,” as Dr. Ian Malcolm might say if he was talking about money instead of triceratops poop.

In order to unload money like that though, an acquiring team would also need to have the cap space to absorb it and potentially do so without much concern about it getting them close to the limit just in case. Presumably, this team would also need to be competitive. This was not the case last year when the Cleveland Browns acquired linebacker Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots, but the Browns had/have such an absurd amount of cap space that they could extend Collins to a mega-deal shortly after the trade. Would a team do that for Graham right now? Third of all, that team would likely have some sort of need at tight end. There are certainly teams with two tight ends of note, but it’s a little harder to imagine Travis Kelce and Graham playing on the same offense.

Even if Graham is more of a receiver than a tight end, when it really comes down to it.

I don’t think that the Seahawks will trade Graham, but if they do, here are the teams I see as being able to be their partner:

Jacksonville Jaguars

Cap space: $31.9 million

Record: 4-2

Tight end: Marcedes Lewis

The Jags already made the biggest move of the 2017 season, acquiring Marcell Dareus on Friday from the Buffalo Bills, strengthening a defensive line that may have been the best in the NFL prior to the deal. Still, Jacksonville’s offense ranks 15th in DVOA (pretty damn good for a Blake Bortles offense) compared to first in defense. So much has been built around rookie running back Leonard Fournette just because Bortles is so bad, while Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns are fine but not dominant receivers. Lewis does have four touchdowns on the season, but just seven total catches on 20 targets.

I don’t know that Graham will be a major help for Bortles, or that anyone could be, but it’s not like they couldn’t afford to take the chance. The Jags haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and haven’t made the AFC Championship since 1999. They have the defense to get them there, but need more firepower on offense to alleviate pressure from the other side of the ball. Fournette, Graham, Hurns, Lee, and Lewis ain’t a bad complement of weapons for Bortles, who just needs sit back and try not to blow it.

Buffalo Bills

Cap space: $12.4 million

Record: 4-2

Tight end: Charles Clay

Competitive teams with more space than the Bills that I skipped over at this point include the Titans (have Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith) and Jets (are they REALLY competitive?), leading me to Buffalo.

The Bills host the Raiders on Sunday and a win gets them to 5-2, potentially in first place if the Patriots lose to the Chargers. The Bills defense and special teams are both ranked eighth in DVOA, but offense lags behind at 19th. They are really a bottom-third team in both passing and rushing, mostly just because they lack weapons after losing Robert Woods in free agency to the Rams and then trading Sammy Watkins to ... the Rams.

With Clay out at least a month to a torn meniscus and sprained MCL, Buffalo is left with Jordan Matthews as their leading receiver at wide receiver or tight end; Matthews has missed two games himself and has 10 yards in each of his last two games. Perhaps only the Giants are worse off at receiver/tight end than Buffalo, but the Bills have an actual playoff race to keep up in.

They could afford Graham. With Clay out, they need someone like Graham. And interestingly enough, as I wrote last week, Buffalo is also the team that has perhaps the most options at tackle with which to trade. A Bills-Seahawks trade makes a lot of sense, actually.

If only we are ignoring the fact that Seattle is also losing Jimmy Graham in this deal and are themselves, in a playoff race. We can complain all we want that Graham isn’t producing at the level we all expected or hoped he would, but he’s still one of the most talented freaks in the league and it is well-proven at this point that Luke Willson is not much of a starting tight end. We also saw Russell Wilson thrive at the end of 2015 without Graham — a repeat of that historic streak should not be expected, though we also can’t say with certainty that the Seahawks offense couldn’t improve sans Graham.

Denver Broncos

Cap space: $11.5 million

Record: 3-3

Tight end: Virgil Green

The Broncos have scored 42 points over their last four games, dropping three of those contests. With a mediocre offense they should be able to stay competitive in the AFC, but Denver ranks 22nd on offense and 32nd on special teams, by DVOA. The problem isn’t really Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, so I’m not sure how much a third weapon would help Trevor Siemian, but Green has not been the second-coming of Julius Thomas that many expected him to be. And not even Thomas was that great. Graham would be a significant upgrade.

Chicago Bears

Cap space: $10.6 million

Record: 3-4

Tight end: Zach Miller

Hypothetically if they upset the Saints on Sunday, the Bears would be 4-4 and possibly in second place in the NFC North. They spent a second round pick on Adam Shaheen but he’s nowhere close to ready to contributing, while Miller is a limited 33-year-old who also happens to be tied with Kendall Wright as Chicago’s leading receiver. That’s not a good sign.

This is not a very likely trade, but I’ll throw it at the wall.

Houston Texans

Cap space: $8.1 million

Record: 3-3

Tight end: Ryan Griffin

How about the team that Seattle plays on Sunday? Even if the Seahawks win, the Texans can’t count themselves out of the AFC South at 3-4, knowing they just need to keep up with Bortles and a shaky Titans team. I like Griffin, but he’s not even close on talent to Graham, and DeAndre Hopkins is really the only player on Houston’s offense who could claim to be in JG’s league.

Hopkins has 65 targets out of 185 attempts, making him basically the entire passing offense. Adding someone like Graham would really expand the offense and what DeShaun Watson could do over the rest of his rookie season. Additionally, it could give the Texans relief from the Duane Brown situation, which not only includes his previous contract holdout, but a dispute between him and owner Bob McNair over McNair’s idiotic comment. Brown has barely more than Graham left on his 2017 salary, meaning that a Brown-for-Graham swap would nearly be even stevens. They could make it work at this point, and that’s worth keeping an eye on.

Maybe especially if the Texans upset the Seahawks on Sunday. Houston would be very much in the race while Seattle would feel pressure to do the same after they’ve invested so much in a 2017 Super Bowl run, knowing that left tackle is their biggest detriment.