By Kenneth Arthur
The Seahawks didn't make the Super Bowl in each of the last two years by playing it safe. Their high-risk/high-reward strategy continued on Tuesday, when they traded for Jimmy Graham while everyone else was waiting for the ink to dry on deals for Julius Thomas and Jeremy Maclin.
According to reports, the Seahawks sent the Saints a first-round pick, along with Pro Bowl center Max Unger, in return for Graham and a fourth-round pick. It comes almost exactly two years later to the day from when they sent three draft picks, including 25th overall, to the Minnestoa Vikings for Percy Harvin. Though the Seahawks won their first ever championship with Harvin on the squad, he rarely played in 2013 and they eventually dealt him to the Jets midway through the 2014 regular season. After the Harvin deal, the team went on a run, winning their second-consecutive NFC championship and falling one yard short of another Super Bowl title.
But it's not so surprising to see the Seahawks add a player like Graham, because he could have made a significant difference in that heartbreaking loss.
When Seattle lost the Super Bowl 28-24 to the New England Patriots, it did so while throwing zero passes to their tight ends, which included Luke Willson, Tony Moeaki, and Cooper Helfet. The presumed starter, Zach Miller, played only three games all season and was released earlier this month. That left a place for a starter, but the Seahawks didn't just need someone who could get the job done, they were looking for a star.
The Seahawks needed a player that would also improve a receiving corps that lacks transcendent talent. When Thomas signed with the Jaguars after Seattle reportedly made a final push, that left the market barren beyond Jordan Cameron, who caught just 24 passes in nine games last year.
But just like they did with Harvin, and like they did in 2010 when trading for Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks simply expanded the market beyond just looking into free agents and instead shopped for situations where teams may be looking for some type of relief.
The Saints were the perfect target.
Though the move does not actually save them money in the short term, the Saints may not have felt like Graham was going to be worth the full extent of the four-year, $40 million he signed last year after the "is-he-a-tight-end-is-he-a-receiver" debate, and that the team could use the $8 million in cash saved right now by moving him. The Saints also think that they did almost as well on offense without Graham as they did when he was healthy, so the resources could instead be put toward rebuilding the worst defense in the NFL.
Graham surprisingly fell to third on the team in receiving yards last season, finishing with 889 yards on 85 catches. That was fewer yards that Kenny Stills (931) and Marques Colston (902), not to mention that his 55.6 yards per game was barely more than the 55 YPG that rookie Brandin Cooks had over 10 games. With Stills, Colston and Cooks, it doesn't seem likely that Drew Brees will lack weapons, but even still, the Saints now have a first-round pick that could be used on a tight end (though it's supposed to be a weak class in that regard) or a defensive player that will help make them a more balanced team.
They will also have Unger -- who Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable helped turn into a two-time Pro Bowl center -- to replace the aging Jonathan Goodwin.
Indeed, the Saints could possibly be fine without Graham. But that doesn't mean he's not still really good.
While he did fall behind in yards, Graham's 10 receiving touchdowns was twice as many as any other player on the team. Overall, his 46 total touchdowns over the last four seasons is third-most in the league among non-QBs, behind the 56 of new teammate Marshawn Lynch, and 50 by Dallas' Dez Bryant. He has more catches and yards through five seasons than any tight end in NFL history.
At 6-foot-7 with moves, he provides the kind of matchup nightmare that maybe fewer than 10 other professional football players in the whole world can contend with.
Graham also has the fifth-most catches since 2011 (most among TEs) and 10th-most yards (against, first among TEs), and he is second in touchdown catches. The only other tight end that can even pretend to be on his level as a receiver in the last five years is Rob Gronkowski, and Seattle saw first-hand how hard it was to stop a player like that. When the Seahawks threw the most important pass of their season to Ricardo Lockette, they only wished they had a player of that caliber.
Now they do.
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Kenneth Arthur is a freelance writer currently covering the NFL at Rolling Stone and the Seattle Seahawks at FieldGulls.com. His work has also been found at Football Outsiders and SB Nation, and he thinks that Andrew Luck is "just OK."