Was Trading for Jimmy Graham Stupid?



I was just settling in to go to bed, what with Korea being 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time in the States. As I checked ESPN one final time before turning in, the Seahawks made a stunning move that was supposed to completely revamp the offense.

They had acquired Percy Harvin from the Vikings.

That was two years ago. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that night earlier this week, when history repeated itself and the Seahawks acquired sexual harassment victim Jimmy Graham.

Thankfully, I wasn’t writing about sports on the Internet at the time, because I no doubt would have written some stuff that would make me look like an idiot. While no one can deny my idiocy, I do write about sports on the Internet now, so it seems like a good time to revive Sports Monocle coverage of the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

After the Percy Harvin era mercifully ended, Will and I launched the site a day early so I could share my thoughts on the trade. As such, I thought I’d do the same for the latest Seahawks blockbuster. Let’s once again run through the pros and cons from the Seahawks’ perspective.

PRO – Jimmy F’ing Graham

Jimmy Graham is really, really good. In his four seasons as a starter, he has 355 receptions, 4,396 yards, and 46 touchdowns. That averages to 88.75 receptions, 1,099 yards, and 11.5 touchdowns per season. Last year, he battled injuries and had a line of 85/889/10. For the sake of comparison, the Seahawks’ leading receiver from last season, Doug Baldwin, had a line of 66/825/3.

It’s tough to project Graham catching 90 passes or gaining 1,100 yards since the Seahawks just don’t throw the ball that much. One can simply look at Golden Tate to see how a receiver’s stats can fluctuate when jumping between the run-heavy Seahawks and a pass-heavy team like the Lions or Saints. Still, Jimmy Graham is a unique and dangerous weapon. Very few people can cover him man-to-man, and some of those few people are currently his teammates. Perhaps Graham will put an end to the sad visual of Russell Wilson helplessly scanning downfield for 10 seconds before giving up and trying to create something by himself.

Also worth noting: on Graham’s pro-football-reference.com page, the players he is considered most similar to at this point in his career are Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Ditka, Jackie Smith, Tony Gonzalez, Charlie Sanders, Bob Tucker, John Mackey, Kellen Winslow, and Milt Morin.

CON – Losing Max Unger

Max Unger is not quite good enough to be Max F’ing Unger, but he’s very good. The Seahawks ran the ball so much better when Unger was in the lineup. Yes, Unger was rarely in the lineup last year, which probably played a part in the Seahawks’ willingness to ship him out. He missed 10 regular season games last year but returned for the playoffs. I’m told he didn’t play well in the Super Bowl, but I’m never watching that game again so I’m not going back to watch for myself.

Like the visual of Russell scanning his hapless receivers, the visual of him immediately running for his life a second after the snap when facing a four-man rush is equally prominent. While Pete Carroll and John Schneider have done a great job of building the Seahawks from a bottom-dweller to the team they are today, their teams seem to be consistently lacking in receiving and pass blocking. And it’s not from a lack of trying. They spent first round picks on Russell Okung and James Carpenter, a second round pick on Justin Britt, and a third round pick on John Moffitt. They used second round picks on Paul Richardson and Golden Tate, and fourth round picks on Kevin Norwood, Chris Harper, and Kris Durham. They signed Sidney Rice and Zack Miller to huge deals in free agency. They traded for Percy Harvin. Yet, every year, offensive linemen and receivers are at or near the top of the Seahawks’ needs.

So I found myself in a strange position when I learned the Seahawks traded arguably their best offensive lineman (plus a first rounder) for yet another potential game-changing receiver. It doesn’t really matter how open Jimmy Graham is if Russell is getting hit immediately. This is also the Seahawks’ third straight year without a first round pick.

PRO – The Seahawks won without Unger

As mentioned, Unger only played in six regular season games. Despite his absence, the Seahawks finished 12-4, and won their final six games with someone other than Unger playing center. All told, Unger, Patrick Lewis, Steven Schilling, and Lemuel Jeanpierre saw action at the position.

I’m not saying trading Unger is an addition-by-subtraction move like dumping Harvin was. There’s no doubt the Seahawks were a better team with Unger. It’s just that he may not be completely indispensable. They won without him, so maybe bringing in a permanent replacement via the draft or free agency while adding Graham to the mix will make them a better team overall. If the Seahawks do somehow mange to sign Stefen Wisniewski, I’ll be doing cartwheels.

CON – The Darrell Bevell Factor

You wouldn’t give a classic Mustang to someone who can’t drive a stick shift. You wouldn’t give a Steinway grand piano to someone who can’t play. Perhaps giving Jimmy Graham to Darrell Bevell will be a similar waste.

I’m not going to spend too much time piling on Bevell. He’s gotten his fair share of ire since his playcalling deficiencies went on display on the grandest stage of them all. Let’s just say I won’t be surprised if Bevell only has Graham on the field to block or run jet sweeps.

PRO – The Red Zone

Do you know who led the Seahawks in receiving touchdowns last year? That would be Marshawn Lynch, with four. Graham should top that.

As a card-carrying weirdo, I’ve spent the last few days contemplating Graham as a fantasy football player. His yardage totals will undoubtedly take a dive, but what about his touchdowns?

Last season, the Seahawks scored a touchdown on 51% of their trips to the red zone. That’s good for 20th in the NFL. Surely that will improve. Combine a top-tier mobile QB, a top-tier power running back, and a top-tier receiving tight end, and the Seahawks have no excuse for settling for field goals in the red zone.

And, as many others have pointed out, maybe Graham will allow the Seahawks to score from the 1-yard line in the Super Bowl. *jumps out window*

CON – Potential Locker Room Stuff

Percy Harvin has forever made me a believer in locker room chemistry. This is noteworthy because Graham has a bit of a history with the Seahawks. Since we’re not too far removed from Hurricane Percy trying to destroy everything in his path, this dynamic terrifies me. This trade mirrors the Harvin trade in a lot of ways, so I hope it doesn’t end with Graham getting traded mid-season for a sixth round pick.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

PRO – Compensatory Picks

This is a bit minor and possibly thinking too far ahead, but trading for Jimmy Graham is better than signing Julius Thomas from a compensatory pick standpoint. Signing a big free agent like Thomas would have lessened the chance of the Seahawks getting a 3rd or 4th round compensatory pick in the 2016 Draft for losing Byron Maxwell.

CON – Finances

Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner still have not been signed to long-term deals, and Graham has a big cap number. Yes, the damage was lessened since Unger’s own cap number went to the Saints, but adding any high-salaried players before locking those two up first makes me nervous.

Final Thoughts

I like Max Unger, and I’m going to miss having him on the team. I’m also terrified of Graham being Harvin 2.0 or Bevell trying to convert him to fullback or something. The thing that swings me to the side of Graham is this: opposing defensive coordinators are going to be a lot more worried about finding an answer for Graham than they are for Unger. As mentioned earlier, Graham’s current career trajectory lines up with some of the best tight ends of all time. Unger is a great player, but is he irreplaceable? The team’s record without him suggests he isn’t. Graham adds an element to the offense that is sorely needed. He’s a unique weapon that, combined with Russell’s mobility and Lynch’s power, will be difficult to stop.

But I’m pretty sure I would have said the exact same thing after the Seahawks got Harvin from the Vikings. Don’t be surprised if I delete this a year from now.

THE (cautious) VERDICT: Not Stupid

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