CBS Sports- The Saints have finalized a trade that will send tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks in exchange for Max Unger and a Seattle first-round draft pick, FOX Sports' Jay Glazer reports. New Orleans would also part ways with their fourth-round selection. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the deal was made official, per a Seahawks official.
I'm not going to lie. This hurts. Kind of like stubbing your toe and getting kicked in the dick directly after. I'm not sure what sucks more. The fact that I no longer have the pleasure of rooting for Jimmy or that I now have to root against him. Graham in a Seahawk jersey just isn't right. Partially because it is the spawn of an XFL prototype and a badly lit neon bar sign, but mostly because he was a beloved Saint. A beloved member of the Who Dat Nation that also happened to be one of the greatest tight ends to ever grace the gridiron. A matchup nightmare that made life easier on the offense, and most notably his quarterback.
With that said, this trade isn't nearly as detrimental as it looks on paper. Would I have preferred to trade Graham to the AFC? Of course. Would I prefer that he wasn't a member of the back to back to NFC champions? Absolutely. However, football is a business, and sometimes you have to worry about your own bottomline first. What's the right move for the Saints is what needs to be done, regardless if it may potentially help another team as well. The fact is that Graham's $10 million dollar per year contract was doing more to hinder the Saints from being a championship contender than help it. Tight ends, no matter how talented they may be, do not win championships. Quarterbacks win championships. Defenses win championships. Offensive and defensive lines win championships. The luxury of an absolute mutant at tight end does not. That's exactly what Graham is, a 10 million dollar luxury. A luxury that came at the expense of talent at far more important positions.
Jimmy Graham's numbers are undeniable, but they also hide a glaring weakness. Over the last two years, Graham has faced the previous two SuperBowl winners a total of three times. The result? Three games, four catches, fifty yards combined. The sample size can be debated, but Jimmy Graham, to this point, has disappeared in big games. It's not just minuscule numbers that are worrisome. In games where the opponent makes a strategical point to get physical with him, his production his drastically hindered. Not only has it been hindered, it has been hindered by players far more diminutive in stature. For a player as big and strong as Graham, he is certainly fighting uphill against the 'soft' label. It's all well and good when he is putting up 150 and 2 touchdowns against the 25th ranked defense. However, when the going gets tough and the games get more meaningful, the 6'7, 265 pound freak has fallen short of living up to his paycheck.
It would be disingenuous of me to ignore that Graham has played the better part of the last two seasons with nagging injuries. While they can be used an excuse, they are also part of the problem. For someone so physically gifted, Jimmy gets banged up a lot. He should be commended for playing through such injuries, but he has certainly not been close to the same player while doing so. The dropped passes, the shying away from contact, and the inability to block have all haunted Graham's career, but they are readily looked past when he makes highlight reel touchdown catches.
I think what many are forgetting is that the Saints offense has been a juggernaut since 2006, far before the emergence of Jimmy Graham. Drew Brees is much like Tom Brady. Their accuracy and ability to throw their receivers open has a positive effect on every single member of the offense. Look at the pass catchers that the Saints have left go to greener pastures...Donte Stallworth, Joe Horn, Jeremy Shockey, Devery Hendersen, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore. While none of those players possess the potential of JG, they were all easily replaced. None of them had nearly the same impact elsewhere. The talents of Drew Brees render high paid talents at the skill positions unnecessary. Not to downplay the abilities of Jimmy Graham, but the system, the head coach, and the quarterback were every bit as responsible for turning him into one of the league's best as his skill set was. If the Saints have hopes of once again becoming a Super Bowl contender, the money is simply better spent elsewhere. While a much cheaper option at the tight end position won't produce at the same level, he could certainly give you more bang for your buck.
I don't want to degrade Graham. he's been a model citizen, a great teammate, and a pleasure to root for, but sometimes organizations have to make unpopular choices for the betterment of the team. I liken this deal to the Shady McCoy trade. An overpaid player that can help your team, but whose production won't be the difference between raising a Lombardi trophy or not. The Saints likely got the most productive years of Graham's career at a drastically lower price point than he has now. I wish I could wish him the best of luck, but in reality I hope he and Earl Thomas knock each other unconscious in practice. Look at the bright side Jimmy, at least then you'll have an excuse to disappear in big games.
The addition of one of the best centers in the league, Max Unger, should solidify a crucial part of the Drew Brees and the Saints success, the offensive line. The additional first round pick opens up a ton of options in terms of bringing in young talent at much less of a cost. As much as this trade hurts the heart, it may very well heal the team. Like all trades, time will tell, but it's certainly not a forgone conclusion that the Saints lost this one, no matter how wrong it feels. Now I just have to avoid seeing this....
P.S. I would be lying if I said that this wouldn't hurt more if Jimmy Graham was still allowed to dunk on the goal post. That's just the child in me. I legit think that Graham's ability to dunk is worth an extra $3 million dollars a year, and no one can convince me otherwise. You think Gronk would be the same player without the spike? Facts are facts. The Seahawks are paying for the dunks of years past. Jimmy without the dunk is basically standard definition television, essentially exactly the same but far less enjoyable to watch. It's like having a girlfriend that puts on a few pounds. She's still the same person just a little less valuable.