The New Orleans Saints pulled off a stunning move on Tuesday when they traded three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round draft choice to the Seattle Seahawks. In exchange, the Saints get center Max Unger and a first-round draft pick.
Jimmy Graham is joining the Seattle Seahawks.
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In a stunning development, the New Orleans Saints traded the three-time Pro Bowl tight end to the Seahawks on March 10 for center Max Unger and a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL draft, per Clare Farnsworth of the Seahawks' official website. Farnsworth stresses Seattle needed help at the tight end position and also wanted to prove it can win without Unger. Both objectives were met once the team traded for Graham.
Graham's trade is still pending a physical, per Farnsworth.
Seahawks executive vice president and general manager John Schneider said in a release obtained by Farnsworth he is thankful for Unger's contributions and at the same time is thrilled with Graham's acquisition:
"We would like to thank Max for his leadership and the role he has played in helping establish our current championship culture. He is a former captain and has been a respected and valued leader for our consecutive Super Bowl teams. We wish him nothing but the best as he continues his career. We are thrilled to have an opportunity to acquire a player of Jimmy Graham's caliber, and will remain relentless in our pursuit of sustaining that championship culture."
Scheider also told The Seattle Times' Bob Condotta on Tuesday how he marvels at Graham's abilities as a tight end:
"This is an offensive weapon that we're adding. A guy that is a big-time difference maker at his position. Obvoiusly a top two or three tight end in the league. We feel like it's adding a big receiver, and anytime we can do that we're going to do it."
For his part, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told The Seattle Times he's just as excited. He quipped,"The opportunity to get a player that can make these kind of plays that we've seen Jimmy Graham do for a number of years really got us excited."
Schneider told the NFL Network (via The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Katherine Terrell) the Seahawks and Saints had been discussing a potential deal involving Graham several days before the start of free agency on Tuesday:
"We have a great relationship with the Saints, (general manager) Mickey Loomis and (head coach) Sean Peyton. We've been talking for several days. This opportunity presented itself, and this was one of those deals that we felt like we needed to make in order for us to keep moving forward as an organization...
"All throughout the weekend, we had a good feel for where people were going and we just continued to talk to the Saints. They had a lot going on, as well. Really, probably (Monday) night and this morning things probably really intensified."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees told reporter Alex Flanagan (via The New Orleans Times-Picayune) he is "as shocked as everyone else" in the aftermath of the trade.
Condotta notes the hunt for a big-time tight end intensified over the weekend when Seattle cut oft-injured Zach Miller on March 6. The Seahawks also tried to lure former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas to the Pacific Northwest, but wound up signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Because they had to give up a first-rounder in order to acquire Graham, the Seahawks will not be able to select in the first round for the third straight year, Farnsworth says. They gave up their first-round draft choice in 2014 and did so the year before when they traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin.
As for the Saints, they now have the 13th and 31st overall draft picks of the upcoming 2015 NFL draft next month, per Terrell. Graham signed a four-year, $40 million contract with New Orleans last summer. He had in a lengthy arbitration process which tried to determine if he should be paid as a tight end or wide receiver.
Terrell says Graham is due $11 million in salary and bonuses next season. This includes a $5 million roster bonus "that the Saints could have converted into a signing bonus to provide salary-cap relief."
Graham is just one of three Saints players who will not return to the fold in 2015. The other two are running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Curtis Lofton. Just the previous year, they parted ways with Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sproles, Will Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Lance Moore, says Terrell.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune describes Graham as "well-liked" by many of his teammates. However, he also had to battle through several injuries, particularly a shoulder injury last season and a foot injury in 2013.
Graham, a 2010 third-round draft pick out of the University of Miami, wraps up his stint with the Saints with 4,752 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns on 595 receptions, per ESPN stats.
Seattle also loses one of the key pieces of its offensive line and Super Bowl XLVII championship team in Unger, who spent the first six seaons of his NFL career with the team. Unger, the third-longest member of the Seahawks, was one of just three players to have been in Seattle prior to Carroll's hiring five years ago. The other two are nose tackle Brandon Mebane and punter Jon Ryan, per ESPN.
Unger, who will earn $4.5 million next season, has battled through nagging injuries the past two seasons. He suited up in just six games in 2014, per ESPN (via The Seattle Times). Terrell notes he will be New Orleans' second starting center in the past three seasons.
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