Jimmy Graham to the Patriots? Ranking his top five landing spots and three wild cards
Where will Graham end up in free agency? Let's take a look at the best candidates
For the first time in his career, Jimmy Graham is about to be a free agent, and there's a good chance he's going to be able to cash-in big time.
Sure, Graham isn't known as a great blocker, but he more than makes up for that with his red-zone production. With the Seahawks last season, Graham caught 10 touchdown passes, which ranked second in the NFL. The crazy part of that stat is that all 10 of Graham's touchdown catches came in the red zone, which gave him more red-zone receiving touchdowns than any other player in the NFL.
Even at age 31, Graham was a mismatch in the red zone for most opposing teams last season. Here's what happens when you try to cover him one-on-one:
Basically, any team that wants to improve their red-zone efficiency should be looking to add Graham -- if they can afford him, and that's going to be the big mystery with Graham. No one seems to know how much he's going to ask for in free agency. Graham's last contract, which he signed in 2014, was worth $40 million over four years. After the Saints traded him to Seattle following the 2014 season, the Seahawks kept his deal intact until it expired this year.
Unfortunately for Graham, he's probably not going to be getting a deal worth $10 million per year again, but he should probably be able to get something worth $6 million to $8 million. However, the higher his asking price goes, the more likely that he'll price out several teams on this list.
So where could Graham end up?
Let's count down the best options, starting with a few wild cards.
Falcons: If anyone knows the value of a veteran tight end, it's the Falcons. Tony Gonzalez spent the final five seasons of his career in Atlanta and put up huge numbers with Matt Ryan. Not to mention, the Falcons will likely be looking to add a tight end after cutting Levine Toilolo in a move that freed up roughly $3.5 milion in 2018 cap space.
Bears: If we know one thing about new Bears coach Matt Nagy, it's that he understands the value of having a productive tight end in your offense. As the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, Nagy had Travis Kelce, and it's not crazy to think that he'd want to bring in an offensive weapon like Graham.
49ers: After spending the beginning of his career in New England, Jimmy Garoppolo definitely knows how important it is to have a strong receiving tight end who can create mismatches all over the field. Also, if Graham does end up in San Francisco, he would definitely have to arm-wrestle Garoppolo for the right to use the nickname Jimmy G.
5. Green Bay Packers
After getting burned on the Martellus Bennett deal last year, the Packers might be shy about adding another high-priced free agent tight end, but adding Graham is definitely a move that would make sense.
Although the Packers have brought in multiple tight ends over the past few years -- including Richard Rodgers (2014 draft), Jared Cook (free agency) and Bennett (free agency) -- they haven't been getting the production they had hoped for. As a matter of fact, over the past five seasons only one Packers tight end has gone over the 500-yard receiving mark, and that came last season when Rodgers hit 510 yards. To put that in perspective, Graham topped that number last year (520 yards), despite the fact that he was playing in an offense in Seattle that doesn't exactly feature the tight end.
The last time the Packers got any serious offensive production from a tight end came in 2011, when Jermichael Finley caught 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. That also happened to be the same season where the Packers went 15-1 and Aaron Rodgers took home the MVP.
Packers fans in Wisconsin clearly understand how important a tight end is in Green Bay, which is why they've purchased a billboard asking the Packers to sign Graham.
If Graham is looking for top dollar, a deal with Green Bay probably won't happen, but if Graham's willing to take a discount to play with Aaron Rodgers, then it wouldn't be crazy to see the two sides get something done.
4. New Orleans Saints
If anyone can use a tight end for 2018, it's New Orleans. Although the Saints ranked second in total offense in 2017, one position where they didn't really get any production from was tight end. Last season, the Saints ranked dead last in the NFL with just 476 receiving yards from their tight ends. One quick way to fix that would be to bring Graham back to New Orleans. Sure, there was some bad blood when he left, but it's now been four years and most of that has probably simmered down.
The bottom line is that the Saints could definitely use someone like Graham, and last season is a perfect example of that. In 2017 alone, Saints tight ends Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, Garrett Griffin and Michael Hoomanawanui combined for 63 catches and just 476 yards. To put that in perspective, Graham averaged 88.8 catches and 1,099 yards per year over his final four seasons with the Saints (2011-14).
Even if Graham doesn't hit those numbers with the Saints, the mere presence of him in the offense would open things up for guys like Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. As a matter of fact, multiple Saints players, including Ingram, have already made it clear they want Graham to return to New Orleans. On March 5, Ingram shot out a tweet with multiple prayer-hands emojis when he saw a story that linked Graham to the Saints.
Of course, the one thing that could stop a potential reunion is money. Not only are the Saints going to have to commit some serious money to get Drew Brees under contract, but they also already a lot of money tied up at tight end. Fleener has an $8 million cap hit in 2018 and cutting him won't fix that. If the Saints release Fleener, they'd get hit with $8.2 million in dead money on their cap.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars made it all the way to the AFC title game in 2017, and they did that even though they got nearly zero production from the tight end position. Last season, Jaguars tight ends combined to catch just 43 passes, which ranked dead last in the NFL. To put that in perspective, Graham caught 48 passes in 2015, which was his worst season over the past seven years. Graham also hit that 43-reception number even though he only played in 11 games.
Basically, Graham is far more productive than any tight end who is currently on the Jaguars' roster. Although the Jags have already picked up the 2018 option for tight end Marcedes Lewis, that deal is only going to cost them $3.5 million, so adding Graham isn't completely out of the question. Adding Graham would also give Blake Bortles another target, which would be big since the Jaguars are about to lose Allen Robinson in free agency.
The downside to adding Graham is that he won't come cheap, and the Jaguars might shy away because they don't want to invest big money in a position with a cheaper alternative in the draft. The Jaguars could also make a move and try to sign one of the many other free agent tight ends who will not only be available, but will likely be cheaper than Graham.
2. New England Patriots
When it comes to the tight end position, the Patriots are in a precarious spot right now and that's because no one seems to have any idea of if Rob Gronkowski is actually going to play this season after he admitted following the Super Bowl that he was going to spend a few weeks mulling over retirement.
Even if Gronk plays this year, there's a good chance the Patriots will be looking to add a tight, and that's because adding a tight end seems to be Bill Belichick's favorite thing to do during the offseason. Over the past three offseasons, the Patriots have either signed or traded for a tight end in the form of Scott Chandler (2015), Martellus Bennett (2016) and Dwayne Allen (2017).
Basically, the Patriots going after a tight end has become an annual offseason tradition in New England, and it wouldn't be a shock at all to see them add another tight end this offseason. The addition of Bennett in 2016 paid off big time and was a huge reason why the Patriots ended up winning the Super Bowl. Bennett led the team in touchdown catches (7) and was second on the team in receiving yards (701) during his 2016 season in New England. Those are numbers Graham could easily put up if the Patriots were to sign him for 2018.
Father Time is going to catch up with Tom Brady eventually, which means you have to think the Patriots will be doing anything possible to maximize their chances of winning a Super Bowl over the next 1-2 years.
Of course, the Patriots most likely won't be willing to give Graham top dollar, which means the only way he'll end up in New England is if he's willing to do what other veterans have done in the past: take a pay cut in exchange for a shot at a Super Bowl win.
1. Houston Texans
We've already seen what Deshaun Watson can do with one star pass-catcher in his offense (DeAndre Hopkins), so just imagine what he could do with two. One person who has already imagined that is Hopkins, who spent part of February trying to recruit Graham to the Texans.
Hopkins was the only player in the NFL last season who caught more touchdown passes (13) than Graham.
The fact that Hopkins was trying to recruit a tight end tells you everything you need to know about how badly the Texans need a pass-catching tight end. Receivers basically want the ball on every play, but it sounds like Hopkins would be willing to share some of the load with Graham because he knows adding the perennial Pro Bowl tight end could open things up for him. Giving Watson a receiving combination of Hopkins, Graham and Will Fuller as the deep threat would almost be unfair to the rest of the AFC South.
The addition of Graham would also give the Texans a true pass-catching tight end that they lacked in 2017. Stephen Anderson was the Texans' leading receiver at tight end last year and he finished with just 342 yards. The biggest upside for the Texans is that they're not really financially tied to any of the tight ends who are currently on the roster, except for C.J. Fiedorowicz, but they can get out of his deal for nothing following the 2018 season.
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