A national report Monday leads further evidence to the long-held thought that Jimmy Graham's Seattle career is over.
The conventional wisdom for months around the Seahawks has been that Jimmy Graham is not expected to be re-signed for the 2018 season and/or beyond.
Further confirmation of that thought arrived Monday in a report from the NFL Network — the league’s official network — that Graham not only is not expected back in Seattle but could be interested in a reunion with the Saints (something else that has also been rumored for a while).
Graham was one of two players — defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson the other — the Seahawks theoretically could have placed a franchise tag on. But Seattle general manager John Schneider said at the NFL Combine on Friday that the team would likely not use the tag, and confirmation of that will come when the deadline passes on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Seattle time.
But it’s not thought the Seahawks ever seriously considered putting a tag on Graham, which would have given him a salary in the $15 million-plus range for the 2018 season after he made $10 million last season, when he was still the highest-paid tight end in the NFL (the official franchise tag for a tight end is $9.8 million, but former NFL agent Joel Corry explained recently why Graham’s would top the $15 million mark due to bonuses in his contract).
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Graham turns 32 next November, is coming off his worst overall statistical season and obviously has never really seemed as comfortable in Seattle as New Orleans, all reasons the Seahawks weren’t expected to ever put the tag on him. And while the team has said it would be interested in re-signing him, the Seahawks weren’t ever thought expected to get into a real bidding war for him given their limited cap room and other needs — and it’s also worth remembering that once a player hits unrestricted free agency he controls his destiny as much as any team does.
Graham’s uneven fit in the Seahawks offense throughout his three-year stint in Seattle had led to an increasing thought that he would rather play elsewhere once his contract ran out (he signed a four-year deal with the Saints in 2014 that Seattle inherited when it acquired Graham in 2015).
The Seahawks will hope that Graham signs the type of deal with another team and then turns in the kind of season that will assure Seattle a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 (and with those picks able to be traded on spec this year, the Seahawks might try to get something out of any future comp picks it may receive in 2018).
When Graham does depart sometime on March 14 or shortly after — one would expect he would go quickly — it will close the book on a career that just never really gained the kind of traction everyone expected when the trade was made almost three years ago today.
Seattle acquired Graham for center Max Unger and a first-round pick on March 10, 2015 (also getting a fourth-round pick in return), roughly a month after the shocking end to Super Bowl XLIX, a game that the team felt highlighted what had been one of its more glaring issues that season — scoring in the red zone (the Seahawks ranked 20th in scoring touchdowns when in the red zone in 2014 at 51.52 percent, despite leading the NFL in rushing that season, something that also played into the ill-fated decision to pass from the 1-yard line against the Patriots in the first place).
Seattle thought the 6-7, 265-pound Graham would be the perfect solution to that problem and also had been increasingly worried about the future of Unger, who played just six regular season games in 2014 due to injuries and had also missed three games the season before.
But in the way a few-too-many things have broken for Seattle since the back-to-back Super Bowls, Unger has missed only one game in three years while helping to solidify the offensive line for the Saints while Graham’s career never really took the way either he or the Seahawks hoped.
Graham actually caught a touchdown pass in his first game at St. Louis, and another in week three in 2015 against the Bears. But he didn’t catch another TD the rest of his first season and had just one 100-yard-plus receiving game (140 against Carolina) before his season ended in week 11 when he suffered a patella tendon injury against the Steelers.
A lengthy rehab led to a stunted beginning to his 2016 season (he basically had no real practice time in training camp) and he caught just four passes in the first two games of that year before turning in what was the best stretch of his Seattle career. Graham caught 12 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown in wins over the 49ers and Jets in weeks three and four of the 2016 season and the thought that Graham and the Seahawks had finally formed a fruitful relationship began to emerge.
But Graham would have just one more 100-yard game the rest of his Seahawks career — an eight-catch, 103-yard, two-TD game in a Monday night win against Buffalo in week eight.
Over Graham’s last 24 games with Seattle he caught 84 passes for 898 yards and 12 touchdowns, production worse than most of his 16-game seasons with the Saints.
Graham caught 10 touchdowns in 2017 — leading the Seahawks and setting a team record for single-season TD receptions by a tight end. But otherwise the season was something of a washout as he had just 57 catches for 520 yards — a career-low average of 9.1 per reception — and was tied for second in the NFL in drops with seven.
It says something about the Seahawks’ history of tight ends that Graham will still leave as the best in team history — he made two Pro Bowls, the only Seattle tight end ever so honored, and his 170 receptions for 2.048 yards and 18 touchdowns are all Seahawks’ franchise career records.
Otherwise, a Seattle that figures to soon be history will be remembered most for what might-have-been and never really was.