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Flashback: What prospects did the Seahawks lose out on by trading a first rounder for Jimmy Graham?

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NFL: Pro Bowl Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In March of 2015, the Seattle Seahawks traded a first round pick and Max Unger to the New Orleans Saints for Jimmy Graham and a fourth rounder. The Seahawks were coming off of back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl, and adding a three-time Pro Bowl, one-time All-Pro tight end in his prime seemed like a great move to make it a three-Pete.

Two years later, Seattle is still waiting for that third Super Bowl trip under Pete Carroll, but how much could their chances have improved if they had made no move at all? Or would the Seahawks still have been worse off with no Graham and their original first round pick plus Unger?

Let’s see where those players and prospects stand now that 26 months have passed.

Graham has gotten mixed reviews from the fans, but outside of his seven games missed from a torn patellar tendon (including playoffs), he’s been regularly on the field and productive. I know that missing seven of a possible 36 games seems like a lot, but considering the injury, it’s a mini-miracle that Graham returned in 2016 to set franchise records by a tight end for catches and yards. If you compare Graham’s 2016 to his 2013 season with the Saints (86 catches, 1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns) then of course you would be disappointed, however that is not exactly “the norm” for him.

In 2013, Graham had 142 targets and averaged 14.1 yards per catch and 8.8 targets per score. In 2016, Graham had 95 targets and averaged 14.2 yards per catch and 15.8 targets per score. In 2014 with New Orleans, Graham had 125 targets and averaged 10.5 yards per catch and 12.5 targets per score. That was similar to 2012, when Graham had 135 targets and averaged 11.6 yards per catch and 15 targets per score.

In half of his time with Drew Brees and the Saints, Graham was exactly the player that he was in 2016 with the Seahawks. There were fewer targets because Seattle doesn’t need to throw it as much as New Orleans typically does (granted, I’d love to exchange about 40 targets to Jermaine Kearse over to Graham), but there’s been no change in the player whatsoever. They got exactly what they bargained for, which is a top-three tight end in the NFL.

The Seahawks also received a fourth round pick in the deal. General manager John Schneider used it in a trade with the Washington Redskins, pairing the pick with a third, fifth, and sixth in order to move up 26 spots in 2015 for Tyler Lockett. So in essence, Seattle gave up Unger, a first, a third, a fifth, and a sixth, and received Graham and Lockett.

Through two seasons, Lockett has been a little inconsistent, though that is not surprising given that he’s a young receiver. He’s also been nagged by injuries (surprisingly, Lockett has only officially missed three games, including playoffs) but Lockett is an All-Pro returner and a promising receiver who has the potential for perennial 1,000-yard seasons.

I think the return on the trade has been excellent for the Seahawks. They got two players and both have made the Pro Bowl since coming to Seattle. What did they give up?

Most people here know Unger pretty well. He’s made 31 starts for New Orleans in the last two seasons and in September, signed a three-year extension with $22 million. I think it’s fair to assume that Seattle would not have been interested in a deal like this one. They are currently spending $1.6 million on the center position, have drafted Joey Hunt and Ethan Pocic in each of the last two years, and may not even end up extending Justin Britt — their best offensive lineman — before he hits free agency in 2018. Unger’s $7.7 million annual salary is the sixth-highest in the NFL for centers, and more than the Seahawks spent on their entire line last season.

Teams are going to value what they want to value, and Pete & John have clearly made a statement that they do not value free agent, second-contract offensive linemen. Gone are Breno Giacomini, James Carpenter, Russell Okung, Garry Gilliam, and J.R. Sweezy. This is their M.O. The only difference is that they got a return on Unger before he would have left anyway.

In 2015, that was a problem as the team shuffled through bad center after bad center, but they already righted the ship — at one offensive line position at least — with Britt in 2016. The loss of Unger does not seem that significant, and the loss of his contract may actually mean that dealing him was a net positive for the franchise.

How about those draft picks though?

Not that it really matters, but just for what it’s worth, these are the players that ended up being picked with the selections Seattle traded away in the Lockett deal:

  • Matt Jones, RB, pick 95. A part time running back for Washington, Jones averaged 3.4 YPC as a rookie and 4.6 YPC in year two. However, his receiving yards went down from 304 to 73, year-over-year. He also had problems with fumbling and lost his job to Robert Kelley, a trend that most predict will continue into the 2017 season, if Jones can remain on the roster at all. The best player to go in that range may have been receiver Jamison Crowder, who also went to the Redskins. However, Crowder is an exceptional (like top three maybe) slot receiver — the problem there is that Doug Baldwin is the best slot receiver in the NFL. There was also tackle T.J. Clemmings, who went to the Minnesota Vikings, though their offensive line may be worse than the Seahawks.
  • Arie Kouandjio, T, pick 112. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the number 112 because of peaches and cream, but Kouandjio’s best praise from head coach Jay Gruden so far may be this: “He’s played one game; He played okay.”
  • Damian Swann, CB, pick 167. Selected by the Saints in a move with Washington, Swann suffered three concussions as a rookie and did not play in 2016. He was arrested last March for speeding, reckless driving. Seattle selected cornerback Tye Smith three picks later, and he is no longer with the team.
  • Kyshoen Jarrett, S, pick 181. A scary injury in 2015 caused nerve damage in his neck that forced him to miss 2016; he was waived by Washington and may never return to football.

All in all, what’s to take away from this is that Schneider seemed aware that day three of the 2015 draft reaped few rewards. All over the board, you’ll find few starters past the top three rounds. The Seahawks wanted to make sure they got a star like Lockett because they were aware it was unlikely they’d find a star with those other picks they traded away. Did they lose out a on star in the first round in their move for Graham though?

Seattle traded away pick 31 in the deal, and New Orleans used that selection on linebacker Stephone Anthony out of Clemson. It seems unlikely that the Seahawks would have used the pick on Anthony, but what have the Saints gotten out of him? Not much.

Anthony was the team’s leading tackler in 2015 (112 tackles, one sack, one interception) at middle linebacker, but Sean Payton wasn’t especially moved by his rookie season. In fact, they added James Laurinaitis and moved Anthony to strongside linebacker. At one point, Laurinaitis even lost the job there, but to Craig Robertson, not Anthony, who struggled at outside linebacker and was immediately replaced by a rotation of safeties.

"Some of the things that are hurting this player: He's explosive, he's disruptive and yet his key in diagnose and his instincts at times are off," Payton said on a teleconference Wednesday morning. "You know, it's run, and he's dropping back in a pass mode, or it's pass and he's at the line of scrimmage. So, his ability to see and diagnose some very simple reads, for instance, are the keys for him to getting better, and I think he was able to do a little bit more of that the other night.

"But, that's been the thing that's kept him back, and quite honestly it's kept him back on special teams because a player like him who's on special teams, if he's covering a kick or covering a punt, generally a guy that can run and hit shows up. And he's been, I would say, just OK in that area."

Anthony may not be working out well for New Orleans yet, but some other players in that range have turned out pretty good.

New York Giants safety Landon Collins went 33rd overall, and he was a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate last season. A fit in Seattle? Maybe, maybe not. But a great player for the Giants so far.

Defensive tackle Malcom Brown, 32nd overall, has unsurprisingly done quite well for the New England Patriots in two seasons. He’s racked up six sacks in his career, though he did wind up in Bill Belichick’s doghouse at the end of 2016. Still, they won the Super Bowl and Brown seems like a decent fit on most teams.

Many fans would have clamored for an offensive lineman perhaps (though not as much as they did this year because Okung was still around in 2015) and Donovan Smith went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at pick 34. He’s been inconsistent, with reports ranging from “He’s really bad” to “He could potentially be a great left tackle for many years.” Those all still sound like upgrades for the Seahawks, but maybe not to a monumental degree.

Overall, my eyes aren’t cartoonishly popping out of my head for literally any player picked between 31 and Seattle’s own selection of Frank Clark at 63, except maybe Collins, who still wouldn’t be starting for the Seahawks. Good players, nice players, role players, and players with potential, but nothing overtly outstanding about any of them. Markus Golden (pick 58, Arizona Cardinals) had 12.5 sacks last season, but that’s less of a concern because they still wound up with Clark. Eric Rowe, Ali Marpet, Rob Havenstein, Bernardrick McKinney, Eric Kendricks — there’s nothing to get that worked up about in comparison to what Seattle ended up with.

Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett, and a rookie class that included Clark, Mark Glowinski, and Thomas Rawls. I think it’s easy to say with two years of hindsight that the Seahawks are better off because of the deal than if they hadn’t made the deal at all. In the alternate universe, I don’t think the “three-Pete” would have happened by now if they had stood pat with Unger and their first round pick.

It looked like a good move to me at the time, and still does two years later.

Poll

The Jimmy Graham-Max Unger deal is so far

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Great for the Seahawks
    (1228 votes)
  • 5%
    Bad for the Seahawks
    (99 votes)
  • 28%
    Neutral, no big difference
    (518 votes)
1845 votes total Vote Now