Along with 17 unrestricted free agents and one possibly-retiring running back, tight end Jimmy Graham is among the Seahawks whose future with the team is at least somewhat uncertain.
He’s recovering from a serious knee injury that required surgery, he has a sizable contract with no additional guarantees and he’s coming off a first season in Seattle in which his assimilation into the Seahawks’ offense wasn’t exactly seamless.
General manager John Schneider was asked Friday on “Brock and Salk” if he expects Graham to be back next season.
“Yes,” he said
“Yeah,” Schneider said.
Even if you allow for the possibility that Schneider was referring to Graham’s availability coming off an injury and not necessarily his spot on Seattle’s roster, Schneider’s comments left the impression that the Seahawks don’t plan on parting ways with Graham after one season.
Graham, acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade with New Orleans last year, caught 48 passes for 605 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games before he tore his patellar tendon in a Nov. 29 win over Pittsburgh. For all the hand-wringing about Graham’s lack of production, he entered that Week-12 game tied for the team led in receptions and was a close second in receiving yards. He had caught four passes for 75 yards when he went down with his knee injury.
Maybe the biggest determining factor in Graham’s future in Seattle is how the Seahawks view his fit in their offense, which was a question at times early last season, most notably following a Week-2 loss to Green Bay in which he caught one pass on two targets. Schneider, though, pointed to the issues Seattle’s offense had as a whole in the first half of the year.
“Jimmy had a great offseason and I thought he had a great camp,” Schneider said. “Me personally, I think people were a little hard on Jimmy. He started going when our offense started going. So I look at it as just kinda part of our maturation offensively, how we were coming together early in the season. I don’t look at it like he wasn’t the Jimmy Graham of old. You’re talking about a guy that gets doubled and bracketed all the time.”
Schneider added: “This guy is a phenomenal football player. So I understand why people would say, ‘Why didn’t he come in here and just take the offense to another level early on?’ But I think the whole offensive unit, we were just kinda trying to find our way early on.”
Once Seattle’s offense found its way, it became more of a timing-based attack that was much less reliant on quarterback Russell Wilson extending plays and improvising as it was earlier in the season. That wasn’t something Graham was accustomed to from his time in New Orleans. How much better might he fare over a full season in an offense that more often sticks to the script?
Graham’s contract has two years remaining, with cap costs of $9 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017. He isn’t guaranteed any more money and his contract has no remaining signing-bonus proration, which means the Seahawks would save all of that $9 million against their cap if they were to release him.
The relative ease with which the Seahawks could move on from Graham has contributed to the speculation that they might, but there has been no indication that they plan on doing so. After Seattle placed Graham on injured reserve, coach Pete Carroll was asked how he would assess the trade that brought him to Seattle.
“Oh, I love him on our team. I love the guy on our team,” Carroll said. “He’s a terrific teammate. He brings character and personality to our team. He’s a dynamic player. I can only see for really cool things to happen in the future. I think it’s going to be a great long-term decision that we made. We’re really happy to have them. We miss the heck out of him.”