Holy guacamole did the NFL new year get kicked off early on Tuesday with the Saints and Seahawks stunning the world by agreeing to a trade that sends tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick to Seattle for center Max Unger and a first-round pick.
An absolute blockbuster. Let's break it down (we also do that on the Eye on Football Podcast which you can listen to on the left or subscribe to via iTunes) and hand out some grades.
1. Helping Russell: Finally the Seahawks have found Russell Wilson a legitimate No. 1 target. This is almost like their quarterback situation in that they were willing to exhaust every possible avenue (signing high-priced free agents, trading for big names, draft, etc.) to find the guy.
Graham gives Russell a legitimate No. 1 option in the passing game.
Over the last four years, Graham averaged 89 catches for 1,099 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's one of five tight ends ever to post 90 catches, 1,000 yards and 10+ touchdowns in a single season.
Over the past four years, ALL Seattle tight ends had 205 catches, 2,594 yards and 19 touchdowns. Graham blows them out of the water.
Jimmy Graham has more than twice as many Rec TD as all Seahawks TE combined over the last 4 seasons: pic.twitter.com/zR5jDbyj3V— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 10, 2015
Graham is a dynamic red-zone force, a former basketball player who shatters goal posts and is impossible to defend when he's leaping in the air.
This offense will be vastly different -- the Seahawks like to run the rock with Marshawn Lynch -- but Graham should be a target hog on third downs and a monster chain-moving weapon for Wilson and the Seattle offense.
Seattle's been tied to rumors involving tight ends -- notably Julius Thomas in both trade and free agency and Graham is a major upgrade over JT -- and finally found a willing seller.
2. Buyer's Remorse: The Saints just wrapped up one of the more disappointing seasons of anyone in the NFL. It came on the heels of handing Graham a four-year, $40 million deal. Clearly New Orleans a) regretted the deal, b) realized they needed to reboot their roster construction and examine their salary-cap issues, or c) identified the need to get younger with an additional first-round pick.
There's probably some "d), all of the above" to it as well.
New Orleans is only getting $2 million in cap relief with Graham's $9 million bonus accelerating onto the cap. But Unger has just two years left on his deal so his money will be off the books sooner.
3. Seattle Off the Clock: For the third straight season, it looks like the Seahawks won't pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. Seattle traded its first round 2013 NFL Draft pick as part of the Percy Harvin deal with the Vikings. Last year the Seahawks moved out of the first round so the Vikings could move up and grab Teddy Bridgewater. And this season the Seahawks are out of the first round after giving up Unger and their first for Graham.
4. Protection Inside: Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs struggled last season in pass protection -- you can see when the middle breaks down that Drew Brees isn't nearly as effective. Bringing in Unger helps the Saints beef up their pass protection and should result in improved time in the pocket for Brees. On the flip side, Unger will be missed in Seattle.
This one is a hard pill to swallow. A great player, a great teammate and a great man. Thank you @MaxUnger60 for everything!— Doug Baldwin Jr (@DougBaldwinJr) March 10, 2015
5. No Road Woes: You might think Graham's numbers aren't as good on the road because the Saints stereotypically aren't great when traveling on offense. But Graham actually averages more yards per game on the road (64.6) than he does in New Orleans (57.3) for his career in the same amount of games (39). He also has more catches and receiving yards on the road than he does at home, although more home touchdowns. There's no reason to worry about him playing outdoors, especially since he's not going against the Seahawks defense.
Seahawks Grade: Seattle went out and got a big-time playmaker they wouldn't be able to acquire with the 31st overall pick in the upcoming draft. It cost them a center but they've sorely needed a top-end weapon for their passing game. That's exactly what Graham is. John Schneider is never afraid to go for gusto and he did just that by swinging for the fences and acquiring a 28-year-old monster tight end. A.
Saints Grade: The Saints got out from under some cap space as a result of the deal and they'll get an extra first-round pick which should help improve the youth movement of their team. But they just lost one of the best weapons in the NFL. Brees and Sean Payton should be able to overcome Graham's departure because that's how the offense works there. But admitting defeat on Graham, who just signed a big deal, is kind of depressing. C-