Re-examining the Seahawks’ trade with New Orleans for Jimmy Graham
Oct 27, 2016, 3:25 PM
In 2015, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk ran into Max Unger at the New Orleans airport shortly after the center was shipped to the Saints in a blockbuster trade that brought tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks. Salk remembers Unger, a veteran with lifelong ties to the Pacific Northwest, looking and sounding miserable over the trade.
“He really did look worried sick over it. I felt horrible for him,” Salk recalled Thursday. “I’ve never felt bad for a professional athlete until seeing that humanness of what moving and being traded must actually feel like. But a couple years in, by all accounts, he’s happy, he’s enjoying it. I’m sure he’s found a nice place to live and the right schools and the right everything. And he’s doing really well.”
But how are the Seahawks feeling about the trade?
As Graham prepares for his first return to the city where his star was born, Salk and ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia re-examined the 2014 trade that sent Unger and a first-round pick (31st overall) to the Saints for three-time Pro Bowler Graham and a fourth rounder (No. 112 overall), which was ultimately included in a package of picks the Seahawks used to trade up and pick Tyler Lockett in the third round of the 2015 draft.
Graham, who joined the Seahawks as one of the most productive and physically gifted tight ends in NFL history, was expected to revolutionize the Seahawks’ offense. However, Seattle struggled to find how Graham, a below-average blocker, fit into the offense early in 2015 before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Meanwhile, Seattle’s offensive line, specifically at center, struggled mightily early in the season before picking up steam in time for a playoff run.
Here’s a rundown of what has happened with the major players of the trade:
2015: 48 catches for 605 yards and two TDs in 11 games.
2016: 27 catches for 408 yards and one TD in six games.
2015: Started all 16 games, Saints allowed 31 sacks and offense ranked eighth in points and second in yards per game.
2016: Started six games, Saints allowed nine sacks; offense ranks third in points and second in yards per game.
Saints first-round pick OLB Stephone Anthony
2015: Started 16 games; 116 tackles, one sack, one interception, five passes defended.
2016: Started two of five games, four total tackles.
Seahawks third-round pick Tyler Lockett
2015: 51 receptions for 664 yards and eight total touchdowns.
2016: 13 receptions for 165 yards through six games.
Kapadia said he agreed with trade at the time, but is unsure about whether he would want to pull the trigger on the move in hindsight.
“I’m really on the fence with it, to be honest. When it happened, I thought the Seahawks made a really good move and added a big weapon on offense, but you have to look at every aspect of the trade. So, yes, it’s Jimmy Graham and Max Unger. You also gave up the 31st pick in the draft and you also took on quite a bit of salary. Jimmy Graham’s salaries are $8 million, $9 million and $10 million in three years. So could you have spent that elsewhere?”
Salk said the offensive line has remained a major thorn for the Seahawks in 2016 but pointed to the center position as one of the few bright spots, with Justin Britt settling in nicely. There were also reports following the trade that Seattle planned to cut Unger if he wasn’t traded and move younger and cheaper along the O-line.
“(Britt has) been arguably, and almost inarguably, the best player on that offensive line this year,” Salk said. “Jimmy Graham is so unbelievably good right now that I’m finding it difficult to say it wasn’t a good deal.”
Kapadia noted that Graham has been a major asset in the team’s quick passing game this season, but the group was even more successful during the second half of last season.
“The offense also averaged 32 points per game for half the season, largely without Jimmy Graham,” Kapadia said. “And you talk about Justin Britt, yeah, it’s solidified, but guess who is a free agent after next season? Justin Britt. So you have to make decisions on some of these guys.”
Kapadia added that the Seahawks could have started their youth movement along the offensive line a year earlier had they kept their first-round pick. Nonetheless, Salk said he can’t imagine the offense without Graham.
“I think they’d be in some trouble without Jimmy,” Salk said. “… With Russell (Wilson) hurt and this offensive line struggling the way it is, I don’t know whether Unger at center would have been enough to offset the problems they have on the edge. I think they’d be in some trouble without a big, tall, offensive pass-receiving threat like Graham. And those guys, as we know, don’t grow on trees.”