The Saints have found creative ways to integrate their tight ends into their offensive scheme throughout their years in existence. However, no tight end has been quite as dynamic for the team as the one featured in today’s article.
In the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints decided to select tight end Jimmy Graham from the Miami Hurricanes. Graham had played basketball for the Hurricanes from 2005-2009. After graduating in 2009, he decided to take graduate classes while also playing a season of football. Many scouts were wary of Graham given that he was a very raw prospect. However, the Saints recognized just how special he could be.
Graham spent his rookie season playing behind veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey. Graham scored his first touchdown in week nine of that season as he hauled in a 19-yard strike from quarterback Drew Brees. This first connection was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Graham took the reigns from Shockey in 2011 as he became the starting tight end for the Saints. Graham made the most of his opportunities as he enjoyed a historic season. He set a then-franchise record for receptions in a single season as he hauled in 99 catches. Current Saints’ wide receiver Michael Thomas has since broken that mark twice. Graham also tied wide receivers Marques Colston and Joe Horn for most receiving touchdowns in a season with 11. In week 17, Graham broke an NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end 1,310 yards. Unfortunately, that record was broken later that day by New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski. Graham earned a Pro Bowl trip and a place on the AP’s second-team All-Pro for his tremendous season.
Graham continued to meet with success in 2012. However, in 2013 he was truly unguardable. Graham caught 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and a franchise single-season record 16 touchdowns. Graham once again earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, and also was named to the AP’s first-team All-Pro.
Despite Graham’s tremendous success in 2013, his season was more infamously known for a certain celebration. During a week 12 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, Jimmy Graham scored a touchdown and celebrated by slam dunking the football over the goalpost. This was a callback to his days on the basketball court for the Miami Hurricanes. Graham bent the goalpost during his celebration. The NFL has recently implemented a new rule which deemed this act to be “unsportsmanlike conduct”. The celebration resulted in a penalty for the Saints and a $30,000 fine for Graham.
After his dominant performance in 2013, Graham became a free agent, yet the Saints wanted to keep the young star on their team. They placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on Graham which meant he could negotiate and sign with another team, but the Saints had the right to match the offer and retain Graham. If the Saints didn’t match an offer for Graham, the other team would then owe the Saints two first-round draft picks.
No offer was made for Graham but negotiations between him and the Saints became extremely complicated as he believed he should be paid as a wide receiver given that the Saints primarily lined him up as such, yet the Saints wanted to pay him as a tight end, his official position. The two sides eventually agreed on a four-year deal with $21 million guaranteed and a total of $40 million over four years. This deal made Graham the league’s highest-paid tint end at the time. Graham played well in 2014 once again earning a spot on the Pro Bowl.
After Graham’s 2014 season, the Saints traded him to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round draft pick in 2015. Graham never found the same success in Seattle that he did in New Orleans. After three seasons with the Seahawks, Graham was released.
During the 2018 offseason, Graham has two teams to consider signing with; the Green Bay Packers or the New Orleans Saints. Saints’ fans were extremely excited at the thought of Graham returning home given that tight end was a need for the Saints. Ultimately, Graham signed with the Packers.
After a lackluster season with the Packers, many speculations and rumors have surfaced of the Packers releasing Graham for the 2019 offseason. If Graham is released, a trip back home to the Super Dome may be the best option for Graham at this stage in his career.
Graham’s career stats in New Orleans are truly spectacular as he ranked fourth in receptions (386), fifth in receiving yards (4,752), and second in touchdowns (51). Hopefully, Graham will design with the New Orleans Saints and add to his career totals.
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