Just when you think they have relaxed, the Seahawks pull off another surprising move.
So much for the Seahawks not making a splash this offseason.
On perhaps the wildest first day of free agency in NFL history, the Seahawks were not quiet as expected. They made a blockbuster trade to acquire Jimmy Graham, the league’s best receiving tight end.
It was more than a splash. It was a Brandon Mebane cannonball into an already busy pool.
And it was another statement that the Seahawks aren’t merely a championship organization satisfied with having a short run and then succumbing to NFL parity.
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On Tuesday, the Seahawks made the kind of bold move you’ve come to appreciate from general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. It’s as bold as the trade they made for Percy Harvin two years ago, only the Seahawks aren’t acquiring a volatile personality this time.
No doubt, Unger is a major loss. The two-time Pro Bowler has a greater value than even his considerable talent. But he also has missed 13 games over the past two seasons, including 10 last season. Even when he has been available, he has fought through pain, and his performance has declined slightly. He turns 29 next month, so he should have some good seasons left. Still, it’s quite possible that, even if this Graham trade hadn’t come up, Unger was closer to the end of his Seahawks tenure than the two remaining years on his contract indicated.
With James Carpenter leaving for the New York Jets, the Seahawks’ inconsistent and oft-injured offensive line must now replace two starters. They still have the resources, via salary-cap room, the draft and some solid backups, to fix this O-line situation. Over the years, they have found it far more difficult to find a weapon like Graham in the passing game.
“Any time you’re making these types of trades for a player like this, it’s not just going to be a hand-over,” Schneider said during a conference call. “Both teams had specific needs. For us, obviously we’re going to miss Max’s leadership. He’s been a core part of what we’ve been doing the last couple years. He was here when we got here. Coach Carroll and his staff actually moved him to center from guard, and he took off. But we have to continue moving this thing forward. We always talk about not having any finish lines, and this is just part of it — tough decisions, but exciting futures as well.’’
You might fear this trade will make the Seahawks too soft and porous upfront to benefit from Graham’s talents. But the Seahawks found ways to play well on offense without Unger and others the past few years. The most positive example came during Week 16 last season, when the Seahawks set a franchise record with 596 yards in a 35-6 victory at Arizona. In that game, Patrick Lewis started at center, and Alvin Bailey replaced Russell Okung at left tackle.
Draft some fresh O-line talent, bring in a cheap veteran or two in free agency, and give offensive-line coach Tom Cable the offseason to figure it out. The Seahawks will continue to have one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL. And even with a reconfigured O-line, they could improve in pass protection with better health and continuity during the season.
Graham is a game-changing talent, and the Seahawks have struggled mightily trying to find a player of his caliber. He’s not a great blocker, and members of the Seahawks defense have called Graham soft and exposed that lack of toughness in the past. But like a coach told me long ago, you need some soft players, too, because of the skill they provide. And with the competitive environment Carroll has created, the Seahawks have a way of developing toughness within their players.
Let’s also put an asterisk next to these questions about Graham’s toughness. He may not be as physical as Zach Miller, but he also has missed just two games in five NFL seasons. In 2014, he played through a bad shoulder sprain. In his career, he also has played through a wrist injury and a torn plantar fascia.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end is tough enough for you to appreciate what he does really well. Over the past four years, he has averaged 88.8 receptions and 1,099 yards and 11.5 touchdowns. Drew Brees, a short quarterback like Russell Wilson, has had no problem maximizing his receiving talent. Even with the blocking questions, he’s the best tight end in the NFC. Only New England’s Rob Gronkowski is a better overall talent.
The Seahawks should continue to look to upgrade at wide receiver, but Graham’s presence will make the receivers better. He’s the type of elite player that Wilson needs to keep improving.
Schneider has much work left to retool the offensive line, but that’s an easier task than finding the next Jimmy Graham. If the Seahawks finish what they’ve started, they’ll finally build a consistently explosive offense to complement their fantastic defense.
Two years ago, the Seahawks sent a message about their Super Bowl aspirations by trading for Harvin. It turned out to be a bad decision, but they did win a championship that next season.
Now here comes Graham, with his immense ability, and the Seahawks have made a new statement: Falling one yard short of a second straight title won’t signal the end of their glory.
They’re going for it, again.