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O’Neil: Has Jimmy Graham been worth it for the Seahawks?

Former Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham is headed to Green Bay. (AP)

The Seahawks are fortunate to have tight end Jimmy Graham.

He has shown that pretty clearly by scoring nine touchdowns over the past eight regular-season games.

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The question of whether he was worth the addition in 2015 is still an open one, though, considering that Seattle gave up a first-round pick in the deal to acquire Graham and will have given him almost $27 million for three seasons when his contract ends.

So has he been worth it? That leads the list of things we’re sorting through about the Seahawks:

What we’re still trying to figure out

1. Has Jimmy Graham been worth it?

This is complicated for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Graham suffered a serious knee injury in his 11th game with the team. That injury was both unforeseeable and had a dramatic impact on his productivity for his first two years in town. But Graham has scored nine touchdowns this season, tied for third in the league. He has scored 17 touchdowns in his 39 regular-season games with Seattle. Only Doug Baldwin has scored more touchdowns for Seattle since Graham came to the team. Graham has produced way more than Percy Harvin ever did, and while that receiver was hardly the gold standard for return on investment, no one bemoaned Harvin’s acquisition nearly as much as they’ve complained about Graham, who has been way more productive (not to mention less expensive on a per-game basis) than Harvin ever was.

2. How much do the Seahawks miss Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor?

The Seahawks allowed an average of 18.3 points in the nine games Sherman and Chancellor started this season. They’ve given up an average of 19 in the three games since they suffered season-ending injuries, which is even more impressive when you consider that two of the last three opponents were Atlanta and Philadelphia. Now, Seattle isn’t better without those two players. Let’s make that clear. Sherman and Chancellor are two of the five or six best football players the Seahawks had when the season started. But a player’s value isn’t just how good he is in a salary-capped league like the NFL, but the difference between his level of play and what you get from the next-best guy on your roster. And so far, the returns have been pretty encouraging for Seattle’s defense. Bradley McDougald won’t ever be mistaken for Chancellor in run support, but he has been more than adequate so far and probably been an upgrade in pass coverage. He covered tight end Zach Ertz for much of Sunday’s game, and Ertz – Philadelphia’s leading receiver – didn’t catch a pass in the first half. Byron Maxwell started the past two games at cornerback, and while he’s more accustomed to playing the other side, he too has been more than adequate so far.

3. Does Seattle have the best tight-end trio in the league?

Seattle spent years trying to get a potent pair of tight ends, but it never seemed to work out. John Carlson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in 2011, preventing him from playing alongside Zach Miller. Kellen Winslow reneged on a promise to renegotiate his deal in 2012, which led to him being released. Then as Luke Willson was emerging, Miller was hurt. Well, don’t look now, but the Seahawks have three tight ends who are more than competent, which is really important for two reasons:

• The Seahawks can use three-tight end formations without committing to the run because each of Seattle’s three tight ends is a receiving threat.

• The Seahawks can’t run the ball in the red zone. They can’t run it at all. In fact, Russell Wilson has three of the team’s four rushing touchdowns this season, which makes the tight ends a perfect scoring substitute.

Most encouraging is that third-year tight end Nick Vannett played 33 snaps against Philadelphia for the Seahawks, a significant uptick in playing time, after a week in which Luke Willson’s status was in doubt because of a concussion he suffered in San Francisco.