Packers: What to do with Jimmy Graham this offseason

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 02: Jimmy Graham #80 of the Green Bay Packers avoids being tackled by Tre Boston #33 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of a game at Lambeau Field on December 2, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 02: Jimmy Graham #80 of the Green Bay Packers avoids being tackled by Tre Boston #33 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of a game at Lambeau Field on December 2, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

For most of the players on the Green Bay Packers offense it has been a disappointing season, this includes tight end Jimmy Graham. Which begs the question, what should Green Bay do with Graham this offseason?

The Green Bay Packers brought in free agent tight end Jimmy Graham last March. This is a position that the Packers have struggled to find consistency at since the days of Jermichael Finley.

Unfortunately like the rest of the Packers’ season, Graham’s time here has been underwhelming.

Under new GM Brian Gutekunst, the Packers find themselves in the midst of a mini-rebuild. With Graham being the highest paid tight end in the NFL for the 2018 season, Green Bay must decide if his salary warrants a return for 2019.

Contract implications

Back in March, the Packers signed Graham to a three-year deal that would total $30 million, according to Spotrac.

The cap hit against Green Bay in 2018 was minimal at just $5.9 million, however it will jump to $12.6 million for the upcoming season.

If Gutekunst decides to cut Graham, the Packers would still end up taking a hit of $7.3 million in dead cap space for 2019.

So really for Green Bay to bring Graham back for another season, it is an additional cost of just over $5 million. Since $7.3 million in cap space is lost anyways if they decide to cut him.

Graham in 2018

Green Bay brought in Graham to be a difference maker for this offense in the red zone, but things haven’t worked out that way.

Graham has dropped a number of passes and has struggled to make contested catches. In fact, both of Aaron Rodgers‘ interceptions this season were off of Jimmy Graham’s hands.

In an interview last week, Graham took full responsibility for his play on the field and was quoted as saying “my numbers suck”, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.

Although he has just two touchdown catches this season, Graham has already surpassed his 2017 production. Jimmy has put up 581 receiving yards and is averaging 11.86 yards per reception, compared to just 520 total yards in 2017, while only averaging 9.12 yards per catch.

But Graham was brought in expecting to produce more than he has, especially considering the contract that he is getting.

Graham misused in the offense

For much of the season Graham, and the rest of the tight end unit for that matter, have not been put in a position to succeed regularly.

Graham is essentially a wide receiver, who is most effective when lined up out-wide. Yet he is consistently being lined up tight and utilized as a blocker.

Blocking has never been a strong suit in Graham’s game but by having him lined up inside, it’s also allowing defenders to throw Graham off of his route in passing situations.

Routinely, edge rushers have been able to chip and jam Graham off of the line. Having lost some of his athletic ability over the years, this ruins Graham’s route and timing with Rodgers.

We can only hope that under a new coaching staff, Graham’s strengths as a player will be better utilized.

Limited options at tight end

Green Bay has carried four tight ends on the roster this season but heading into 2019, their options will be limited.

Marcedes Lewis will become a free agent but even if brought back, he is known more as a blocker than as a pass catcher.

Robert Tonyan has shown potential but he is still young and it is unknown what kind of player he will develop in to.

Lastly, Lance Kendricks will enter free agency as well, and it is hard to imagine him coming back. Kendricks struggles as a blocker and has been inconsistent at catching the ball since his days at the University of Wisconsin.

Some notable free agents in 2019 include Tyler Eifert, who has been injury riddled the past few seasons, as well as Jared Cook, who had some success with Rodgers during his one season in Green Bay.

However, any top-flight tight end in free agency is going to be expensive. If Graham ended up being cut, the $7.3 million in dead cap space plus the new salary would be a lot of money spent on that position.

This hasn’t been the season Jimmy Graham or Packer fans were hoping for in his first year but the rest of the offense has struggled too, not just Graham.

Also, another year of working with Rodgers should help increase Graham’s production. As we’ve seen in the past with rookies and some incoming free agents, it takes time to get on to the same page as Rodgers.

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Even though 2018 didn’t go according to plan, it doesn’t make sense to just cut Graham. He still has the potential to be a big contributor to this offense in 2019.