Seattle's trade for Jimmy Graham was the big news of the year at the tight end position --- but also a trade that still has an incomplete grade.
Unexpected at the time it was made, Seattle’s off-season acquisition of Jimmy Graham remains a trade with a grade that is incomplete.
Judging just by the stats, Graham contributed more than well enough in his first season with the Seahawks, tied for the team lead in receptions (44) before he suffered a season-ending injury against the Steelers in week 11.
But the raw numbers did little to quiet the debate over the merits of one of the biggest trades of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider, the ultimate judgment of which likely depends on how well Graham recovers from patellar tendon surgery and much he adds to the offense down the road.
As we continue our daily breakdown of the Seahawks’ position groups, here’s a closer look at a tight end spot that had no shortage of change throughout the season.
Starter: Jimmy Graham
Snaps played: 569 (of 1,079 total).
Contract situation: Signed through 2017.
2015 stats: 48 receptions for 605 yards (12.65 average), 2 TDs.
Backups: Luke Willson
Snaps played: 451.
Contract situation: Signed through 2016.
2015 stats: 17 receptions for 313 yards (12.5 average), 1 TD.
Snaps played: 249.
Contract situation: Restricted free agent.
2015 Seahawks stats: 13 receptions, 130 yards (10.0 average), 0 TDs.
Snaps played: 35.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
2015 stats: 4 receptions, 29 yards (7.3 average), 1 TD.
Snaps played: 15.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
2015 stats: No receiving statistics.
Graham was the centerpiece of a trade that marked the second time in three years the Seahawks traded their first-round pick to gain a big-time playmaker (Percy Harvin in 2013 the other). Seattle traded away Max Unger in the deal, as well, while also gaining a fourth-round pick.
When they acquired him, the Seahawks envisioned Graham as the big (6-7), athletic receiver who could transform a red zone offense that had ranked just 18th in 2014.
Graham did as advertised early — he scored what was Seattle’s first offensive touchdown of the season in the season-opening loss at St. Louis. But he would score just one more touchdown the rest of the season as debates erupted almost weekly about how well he fit into the Seattle offense.
The debate in some ways only intensified after Graham was injured in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh as the offense continued on a second-half surge (though it’s worth remembering that Graham basically played all of the first two games of that stretch).
While there were reports that Graham was unhappy with his role, he denied those when he spoke to the media as did others around the team.
Once Graham went out, the starting job fell again to third-year vet Luke Willson. Willson, though, suffered a concussion that held him out of the final game, and combined with a back injury early in the year was held to his lowest totals as a Seahawk (17-213 and one touchdown).
Graham’s injury also meant something of a revolving door of backups the last few weeks in Cooper Helfet and Anthony McCoy and Chase Coffman, the latter two signed late in the season.
Despite all the speculation about his role and how he fit, Graham was on pace for a season better than any Seahawks tight end in team history when he was injured.
Job one will be getting Graham healthy. While patellar tendon injuries can be tricky, the Seahawks sound confident Graham will be back for the start of the season.
Said coach Pete Carroll on Monday when asked about Graham’s recovery: “Sounds really good. He’s thrilled to be off of the crutches and he’s getting going. He’s very dedicated to the process of it. He’s doing some really cool, innovative things. He’s doing all of the stuff you could possibly do to get well. … I think he’s going to take advantage of all of that to give us a real shot to get him back.”
Willson remains under contract for another year and the Seahawks can probably pretty easily bring back Helfet, McCoy and Coffman if they want.
If Graham indeed recovers in time for the season than this position could be pretty well set for 2016. One thing worth wondering is if the Seahawks might feel compelled to bring in more of an in-line blocking tight end to add depth. That was a particular strength of Zach Miller, the starter in 2013 before being injured early in the 2014 season.
Up next: Wide receiver.