Consider his entire story, and the newly acquired Pro Bowler sounds like many of the players who helped create the Seahawks’ championship culture. | Jerry Brewer
At first, Jimmy Graham seemed like the ultimate departure from the Seahawks’ norm.
Certainly, they’ve never had a receiving target with his combination of size, productivity and end-zone familiarity. So there was an assumption that Graham’s novel talent would come with an amount of ego or a level of resistance that the Seahawks are unaccustomed to handling. Graham is so accomplished and so comfortable with a New Orleans system that couldn’t be more different from what the Seahawks do.
You had to wonder, if only in passing, whether the Seahawks were losing a bit of themselves in pursuit of better offense. And if you’re really a worrier, you couldn’t help fretting that Graham would be as awkward a fit as Percy Harvin was.
Jimmy Graham file
Height: 6 feet 7. Weight: 260 pounds
Position: Tight end. Age: 28
College: Miami (played four years of basketball and one year of football)
Drafted: In third round (95th overall) in 2010 by the New Orleans Saints
Career highlights: Caught at least 85 passes in four straight seasons. Has twice surpassed 1,000 receiving yards.
But the more you learn about Graham, the more he sounds like a Seahawk. He’s a former late third-round pick, the 95th player selected in the 2010 NFL draft, who played one season of college football after giving up basketball and caught just 17 passes. He came from a broken and dysfunctional family. He overcame hardships and low expectations to become a paragon of NFL tight ends.
He loves to work hard, and though he plays with a chip on his shoulder, he values teamwork and understands the selflessness that winning requires. Consider his entire story, and Graham sounds like many of the players who helped create the Seahawks’ championship culture.
“I’m looking to really fit in wherever they need me,” Graham said during a conference call with Seattle reporters Thursday, two days after the Seahawks traded center Max Unger and their first-round pick in this year’s draft for Graham and a fourth-round pick. “I’m a team player, and I’m all about winning. Whatever they want me to do, I’m 100 percent on board, and that’s with anything.”
Yes, this is a honeymoon period in which Graham can say no wrong. Harvin’s first interviews inspired positive vibes, too. But Graham doesn’t have a mercurial past. He has the right temperament to succeed with the Seahawks.
When New Orleans coach Sean Payton called to tell Graham that he’d been traded, the tight end immediately worried that a bad team with lots of cap space — Oakland or Jacksonville, perhaps — had acquired him.
“But when he told me Seattle, it definitely put a grin on my face,” Graham said.
Never mind the pregame confrontation Graham had with linebacker Bruce Irvin in the playoffs a year ago. Never mind that defensive end Michael Bennett called Graham “overrated” after the Seahawks won that game.
Graham is a Seahawk now, and though he’s not considered as physical as many of his new teammates, he arrives with more Seahawk in him than you think. And he’s enthusiastic about making his game translate to the Seahawks’ style of play.
“I’ve had some battles clearly against their defense the last couple of years,” Graham said. “We’ve struggled against them as a team as a whole. It’s probably the one game as a player you always look forward to because they’re always so good, and it’s usually a prime-time game.
“So for me it was a moment of shock, but once that shock cleared, I realized that I was going to the best team in football.”
His task is to make this best team in football more diverse and explosive on offense. That’s non-negotiable. If the Seahawks want to stay at an elite level and chase more championships, Graham must help them evolve. This trade can’t be a bust. It can’t be a trade that sort of works for a while. General manager John Schneider needs to have nailed this decision. Graham is capable of helping the Seahawks reach a new level of dominance.
He already knows what he can add.
“I’ve been watching some film, and it seems like a lot of teams play a lot of Cover Zero (no safety help for cornerbacks) against them because of Marshawn Lynch, and that read option is so good,” Graham said. “Marshawn, you have to put guys in the box, and you have to bring safeties down. When you’re playing Cover Zero, there are a lot of one-on-ones. There are a lot of opportunities down the field. There are a lot of opportunities in that middle section where you have guys in these one-on-one matchups, and I think eventually teams won’t be able to do that.
“You won’t be able to go Cover Zero to stop the run, and I think I can help open that up. And then in the red zone, that’s something I’ve always been good at. I’m 6-7, 260 pounds, and most of those are like a rebound for me.”
Graham says quarterback Russell Wilson was the first Seahawks player to call him after the trade. They’ve been interacting and exchanging text messages. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees raves about Graham and the work he’s willing to put in to develop chemistry. If the same happens in Seattle, Wilson will take another step in his development.
“What I shared with him was exactly the chemistry thing,” Graham said of his conversation with Wilson. “I said, ‘I’m going to go wherever I need to go, and I’m going to be wherever I need to be to be with you to work on this chemistry because that is the most important thing, and the only way to work on that is time.’ You’ve got to run those routes, and you’ve got to catch and throw. I’m really looking forward to getting with him and learning more about him as a player, as a thrower, as a passer.”
Graham mentioned spending extra time after practice with Wilson and said, “As long as he wants to throw to me, I’m going to keep catching.”
Graham is a late bloomer who loves football. Even though he has had the most productive first five years of any tight end in league history, he wants more. And he’s not talking about numbers. He’s talking about impacting winning.
The Seahawks want more, too.
This partnership grows in intrigue by the day.