Kristian: Trading Jimmy Graham may be Saints' best move
by Kristian Garic,posted Feb 26 2014 4:54PM
Tune in to "Sports Talk" today from 4pm to 8pm to hear Kristian and Bobby discussing possible Graham trade!
What if I told you the Saints should franchise tag tight end Jimmy Graham then promptly trade him? Blasphemy? Hardly. Graham is one of a select few players in the NFL today who is worth at least a first round draft pick and is not a quarterback. What player is more replaceable than Jimmy Graham? Yep you heard me, replaceable! The NFL Draft class of 2014 is chock-full of talent at wide receiver and tight end. Don’t forget, the Saints found Graham in the third round. And Seattle won the Super Bowl without a dominant tight end with wide receiver skills.
What is the greater need; a tight end who plays receiver, or help on the offensive line? Maybe a cornerback who can cover to play opposite Keenan Lewis? Or, perhaps another dynamic pass rusher like Khalil Mack out of Buffalo in the draft? Losing twice to the Seattle Seahawks probably taught this coaching staff some valuable lessons, and one thing we know is that Sean Payton learns fast. Defense -- the kind of defense Seattle plays -- will win more than it will lose. Seattle validated its defensive model in 2013.
The Saints should spend their money elsewhere. They have a franchise quarterback who needs offensive line help. Thirty-seven sacks last season prove there’s room for improvement in this unit. Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles would like to see some sort of upgrade in the front five too. Re-signing Jimmy Graham may mean the Saints couldn’t retain one of two veteran free agents along the offensive line. That’s not good.
So let's think this through. Where is Graham’s real value? He presents matchup problems for the defense in the passing game. But just like a center in basketball, Graham needs someone to create scoring opportunities for him. He isn’t the offense; he makes the offense better… much better. Jimmy's not a requirement, but a luxury. For a while, I've said Graham needs to be paid. The question on the table now is, should it be the Saints who pay? The Saints just might be better served by a Jimmy Graham trade for a first round pick, maybe even a first and third or fourth.
The salary cap presents a number of challenges for GMs and coaches who would love to retain superior talent while shoring up the weaknesses of their teams. With the exception of the quarterback position, and in the Saints’ situation, specifically Drew Brees, nearly every other position can be viewed as replaceable, interchangeable. As an aside, the recent CBA seems to have done more to shorten the long-term prospects for veteran players, who seemingly deserve to be highly paid, but find themselves on teams who can no longer afford to pay them. It’s almost a situation where too much individual success leads to being released because retaining them is unaffordable.
Some team will pay Jimmy Graham. He deserves a big pay day. I’m just not sure it should be the Saints. The 2014 NFL Draft promises to be one of the richest in recent draft history, and for the price, those rookies are a bargain. Seattle and San Francisco are repeating their draft harvests of recent seasons. Russell Wilson’s contract pays him less than a million a year!
Loomis, Payton, et al., are among the best talent evaluators in the league. That’s a fact. I can’t help but believe a Graham trade is a real possibility in their thinking. The organization would surely come under criticism for letting an All Pro tight end leave the building. However, elite tight ends don't win championships. Elite QB's and defenses do. The Saints won their lone Super Bowl with an aging Jeremy Shockey at tight end.
The Saints would be better served trading Graham and reinforcing the offensive line, defense and wide receiving corps. Let someone else overpay for a tight end who isn't much of a factor in the running game and sometimes disappears in big games. Against Seattle in the divisional round of the post-season in 2014, Graham was targeted 6 times with just 1 catch. Graham has accounted for 41 touchdowns in his four seasons with New Orleans. That number could just as easily have been spread out between three or four players.
In the final 8 regular season games of 2013 Jimmy Graham only surpassed the 100 yard receiving mark once. Let me say that again. Jimmy had one 100 yard game in the final eight regular season games in 2013. What's more, in the final five games of the regular season Graham failed to reach the 100 yard receiving yardage threshold. It’s worth thinking twice before awarding him top tight end/receiver money.
Graham played in two playoff games in January. He tallied a whopping 4 receptions for 52 yards and zero touchdowns. So, in ten straight games he failed to go over the 100 yard mark. Far from clutch. He's freakishly talented, but would his value be any higher to the Saints than right now?
Pull the trigger. Make the trade and make the team better. Jimmy Graham is excellent, but not a franchise changer. The Saints already have that player...Drew Brees. The Saints can add by subtracting with Jimmy.