Packers free agency: The pros and cons of signing Jimmy Graham

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Tight end Jimmy Graham
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Tight end Jimmy Graham /

The Green Bay Packers are reportedly interested in Jimmy Graham. What are the pros and cons of signing the free agent tight end?

There’s a new sheriff in town and he’s packing heat heading into the new league year, which has Packers fans on the edge of their seats.

In a stark 180 from the offseason slow dance Ted Thompson would methodically engage in, new GM Brian Gutekunst is reportedly looking to strike early during the free agency period and stake his claim on A-list talent.

And while the steady drum beat of criticism of Thompson’s 16-year regime has grown excessive, the longtime executive buried his own coffin in recent years due to his hesitancy in veering from his ultra-conservative management style.

TT failed to implement a sense of urgency in revamping his roster, and his feeble steps to remedy the situation last March resulted in a pedestrian bounty featuring the likes of Lance Kendricks and Jahri Evans.

Thompson’s gravest error, of course, was ditching veteran difference maker Jared Cook for fading malcontent Martellus Bennett.

Going into his new appointment, Gutekunst is well aware that fortune favors the bold, and in that vein, he must now pursue the types of veterans that command the ball, command double-teams and, in essence, command the spotlight.

Putting the weight of the universe on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers can only get you so far.

Jordy Nelson won’t be drinking from the fountain of youth and retrieve his long-lost juice, and neither will Clay Matthews. Randall Cobb won’t suddenly transform into the second coming of Steve Smith overnight and start tossing defenders like display mannequins at your local department store.

It’s time for the big-game hunting to commence and it all begins with addressing arguably the team’s most glaring deficiency, the tight end position.

Though No. 12’s extended absence had a lot to do with Green Bay ranking 25th among passing offenses in 2017, the negligible impact made by Packer tight ends facilitated opponent game planning with no one to fear among Bennett, Kendricks, Richard Rodgers and Emanuel Byrd.

In total, the motley crew of players at that position collectively gained under one-fifth (627) of the team’s passing output (3,167 yards) while scoring only two of the team’s 25 passing touchdowns.

The proven star-quality tight ends in this year’s free-agent pool are Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eifert, with the Packers front office reportedly showing a strong interest in the former, according to reports.

The 31-year-old may be slightly passed his peak from a performance standpoint, but is still easily among the top handful of players among his tight end peers.

So, if you’re guessing that he won’t come cheap, you’re 100-percent correct. In fact, his most recent contract had him making $40 million over four years with $20 million in guarantees.

You can bet that Graham will be looking to get something very close to what he was making as a Seahawk, which then begs the question: Is he worth that type of investment or would Gutekunst be better served investing the organization’s financial resources elsewhere?

Here are the veteran’s pros and cons. Let’s examine.


Diminishing returns

Entering his ninth-year, Graham isn’t quite the gazelle he once was due in large part to a harrowing torn patellar tendon he suffered in 2015.

To the naked eye, it’s quite clear that the one-time power forward has reached the stage of his career where he’s very much become a catch-and-fall tight end.

Graham doesn’t elude or run by adversaries and you won’t catch him breaking very many tackles. His lack of production after the catch is evidenced by the fact the fact that he ranked 16th among tight ends in YAC, behind the likes of the slow-footed Jack Doyle and 37-year-old Ben Watson.

Moreover, the former Seahawk’s yards-per-route dipped from 1.91 in 2016 to 1.21, as per Pro Football Focus (PFF), in his last year in the Emerald City.


Remember those days when Graham was Drew Brees’ unquestioned go-to guy? Everyone in the stadium knew the ball was going in No. 88’s direction, but there’s was nothing defenses could do to stop the towering 6-foot-7 playmaker.

Well, those days have gone the way of the wildcat formation in that Graham doesn’t bring it every week, which is crystal clear to anyone who would care to quickly glance at his game log.

In his last season in a Seahawks uniform, Graham posted three or fewer receptions seven times, and in six of those contests, he came in under 45 yards.


Tower of power

Ok, he may not be as explosive as he once was, but at 31-years-old, who is? If one focuses on the areas Graham still excels in, they’ll be quick to note that he led all tight ends in touchdowns (10) in his eighth NFL campaign.

Eight of those were from 10 yards in, which indicates that the impending free agent is still a master at making plays in tightly-contested quarters, where size and skill trump speed and acceleration.

Graham’s agility to turn and shield defenders was on grand display on his 11-yard score with Malcolm Jenkins in coverage. Similarly, the University of Miami product combination of soft hands and tracking ability allow him to come down with spectacular one-handed grabs, as he did versus the Texans in 2016.


It’s hard to erase the memory of Graham going down (and staying down) nearly three seasons ago against the Steelers with what some people thought was a career-ending patellar-tendon tear.

To his credit, the five-time Pro Bowler has recovered in fine fashion by producing two consecutive 16-game seasons.

Over the arc of his career, Graham has five 16-game years on his ledger, and only one in which he suited up for fewer than 15.   


The Packers need an established presence at tight end in the worst way and inking Graham to a reasonable two-to-three-year deal would solve that dilemma.

The tandem of Graham and Davante Adams inside the 10-yard line would give opposing teams fits while providing Rodgers with two big targets that can go up and snatch balls tossed slightly outside of their respective area codes.

Guys like Trey Burton may be younger, but he’s never been the man. Life as the TE1 comes with lots of pressure and Zach Ertz will no longer be there to command the attention of the opposition’s best cover men.

And as for Eifert, his fragile nature doesn’t seem to qualify him as the type of player a win-now squad need to be counting on.

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Packers supporters should be ready, willing and able to embrace a bona-fide star as their new starting tight end in the form of Graham, who might not go from 0-60 as he once did, but can supply a lot of the much-needed heavy lifting in the passing attack.