A series looking at the players on the Seattle Seahawks who are set to become free agents in March, as well as potential trade and cap casualty candidates.
Player: Jimmy Graham
Position: Tight End
2017 Cap Hit: $10 million (OverTheCap.com)
2017 Stats: 96 targets, 57 catches, 520 yards, 10 touchdowns, 9.1 YPC, 59.4% catch rate, 6 drops, DYAR: 9 (27th among TEs), DVOA: -5.9% (28th) (FootballOutsiders.com, Pro-Football-Reference.com)
You know about the trade, the controversy over whether it was a smart move or not, the lack of key red zone targets in the first two years, and the fact that those fortunes reversed in 2017 when Graham became perhaps the NFL’s best red zone target but a complete afterthought in the other 80 yards of the field. The real question is: What do the Seahawks have in Graham now and should they retain him?
If Seattle had literally spent their first round pick on a tight end in 2015 (instead they used it to acquire Graham from the Saints, plus moving Max Unger for a fourth rounder), and he produced exactly as Graham did, then how would people feel about his production in the last three years?
170 catches, 2,048 yards, 18 touchdowns
The expectations for Graham were significantly higher than that, but it is still representative of a very productive tight end and the Seahawks are a more dangerous team with Graham than without him. Now if that player had been a rookie, then they’d be more likely to be re-signed by Seattle, but Graham is 31 and we know now that he’ll probably never be as productive with the Seahawks as he had been with the Saints or how he could be somewhere else. That’s not likely to change much with Brian Schottenheimer either.
Though Schottenheimer worked briefly with Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates during his early years in the NFL, his Jets and Rams teams primarily focused the passing game on the receivers, not tight ends. Seattle spent $10 million of their cap space on Graham in 2017, what are they really willing to allocate to him now that he’s older and while they’re trying to makeover the roster?
2018 Contract Outlook
The four tight ends who made $9 million+ last season are Graham, Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, and Rob Gronkowski.
Greg Olsen signed a three-year contract extension with the Panthers in 2015 — when he was 30 — for $22.5 million. The quality of player and age are comparable. You could argue that Olsen is a better all-around tight end than Graham and that he’s one year younger from the day he signed his contract, but also three years has passed and teams have more cap space now than they did then.
In that case, Graham could look for a three-year deal worth up to $24 million ($8 million APY would keep him in the top five for tight ends), but perhaps a little more or a little less. It’s hard to judge because Graham as a player is hard to judge — his value per play was atrocious but his value in the red zone this season was dominant and impossible to deny. Russell Wilson just chucked it in his direction over and over and Graham consistently came away with six points. Unfortunately he did also have six drops — not the first crucial mistakes of his career — and some fans are ready to part ways regardless of the cost.
I still think there’d be a chance that Graham signs a one-year deal with a team that is expected to contend for the Super Bowl and that would feature him in the offense with a great quarterback; Graham would probably like to boost his numbers, prove once again that he’s healthy (he miraculously only missed five games after his torn Patellar tendon), and play somewhere that would prove he’s still one of the best tight ends and weapons in the league. If he could do that, Graham could hit the market next year at 32 and sign one more lucrative deal.
Shannon Sharpe was productive until he was 35. Gonzalez until he was 37. Gates is still playing well and he was 37 last season.
If I were Graham, I’d look to go to the AFC, where a trip to the Super Bowl is much more likely than in the crowded NFC with all those talented quarterbacks. The Bills, Broncos, or Jaguars, if they sign Kirk Cousins. The Steelers. The Texans. And yes, the New England Patriots.
That’s where I’d be looking, if I was Graham.
Likelihood to re-sign with Seahawks: <20%
This is one of those cases where it’s not really whether or not Seattle should sign the player, but if they even could if they wanted to. If I’m Graham, I don’t see many benefits to staying.
Him and Wilson connected for 10 touchdowns and I’m sure outwardly they’d love to stay together, but by now we should know that their bromance doesn’t translate to a throwmance. Wilson’s best football of the last three years came at the end of 2015, most of which was without Graham. Graham’s best football has come with Drew Brees. The Seahawks best chance at a Super Bowl next year may be without Graham, and the vice versa is probably also true in that case.
I don’t know what it is about the Graham-Hawks that doesn’t work, but I know that Seattle has not seriously contended for a Super Bowl in the three years since acquiring him. (And if we’re being honest, the same was kinda true of New Orleans: They won a Super Bowl in 2009, drafted Graham in 2010, had losing seasons in two of his last three seasons there, and rebounded to be their best selves since 2009 this past season.)
Unless the Seahawks give him the franchise tag, it may not even matter. He should explore the market and he will likely find something more enticing than Seattle. The franchise tag would ensure that the Seahawks get to either try it out one more time or receive compensation for losing Graham, but I believe they’ll likely get a third round comp pick anyway.
I’m not so sure you could get better than a fourth round pick in trade for Graham.