Who the %!&$ is Jimmy?

I sat down at dinner next to my thirteen-year-old son and immediately started talking about the Seahawks trade for Jimmy Graham. We had texted earlier and I shared that I was not a fan of the deal. Now, he wanted to know why. First, I told him I don’t like Graham as a player. He is soft. He comes across as arrogant and self-centered, and my experience is that players like that do not come through when the game gets tough and usually are quick to blame others. I also do not like the idea of trading Pro Bowl lineman for a skill player. Football is a game of strength and skill, but strength trumps finesse. Give me a team that can beat down an opponent over one that can run away from them every time and three times on Super Bowl Sunday. Finally, I did not like giving up a first-round pick in addition to the starting lineman. Sixty-two players will be selected before the Seahawks make their first selection in what will be a pivotal 2015 draft. My son looked at me, and said, “Yeah, but we got one of the best tight ends in history.” Yes we did. Now what?

Graham may be more receiver than tight end

John Schneider mentioned during his press briefing today that Graham is a “big wide receiver.” He also mentioned the strength of the tight end group that included Anthony McCoy, Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet. Add to that the fact that Graham lined up at receiver on 66% of his snaps last year, per ProFootballFocus.com, and there was strong debate that Graham should get the receiver franchise tag instead of the tight end tag last year, and the Seahawks may have done more to address their receiver opening than most realize.

Graham lined up at wide receiver on 66% of his snaps last year

He immediately give the Seahawks something they lacked last year, which is a player in the passing game who will demand a double team on many plays. This will allow Seattle to dictate coverage in a way they never really could before.

Percy Harvin provided that kind of factor, but in a very different way than Graham. Harvin would influence the safeties by requiring them to stay wide and respect his speed around the corners. That also stressed the lineman and linebackers who had to account for his outside speed while also bracing for Marshawn Lynch’s pounding up the middle.

Graham stretches the field vertically, especially in the seams through the middle of the field. Seattle can continue to get some of the horizontal stretch through the read-option with Russell Wilson being the outside threat, but now they add a big target who can punish over-eager linebackers who are preoccupied with stopping the run. It still feels like the team needs an edge receiver to complete the picture, so do not be shocked to see another addition there.

It is possible that this will reduce the need for a slot receiver in the offense. Graham and Doug Baldwin may be occupying the same space, so it will be interesting to see how personnel groupings play out.

Red zone bonanza

Few players are bigger threats in the red zone than Graham. He has the third most touchdowns in the NFL over the past three years, and is a handful for any defense inside the 30 yard line. For all the efficiency the Seahawks receiving crew showed between the 20s last season, there was a clear lack of confidence or ability to close the deal inside the red zone. 
Lynch led the team in receiving touchdowns with four.  Baldwin and Luke Willson had three. The total passing touchdowns was down to 20 after netting 27 in the previous two seasons. Graham has had at least nine receiving touchdowns in every season other than his rookie year when he had five. Granted, the guy is used to 140+ targets and catching passes from Drew Brees, but the touchdown talent is undeniable. 

Unger represents a major loss

The most common response on Twitter to my distaste for this trade was a tie between, “stop being a negative nelly,” and “Max Unger is always injured.” True, Unger missed a total of 16 games over the past two seasons. He also made a massive difference when he was on the field.

2014 Games With Unger Games Without Unger
Points 28 20.7
Red Zone % 61% 44%
Total Yds 392.5 365.7
Yards Per Play 6.3 5.7
Rush Yards 203.8 153.9
Sacks Allowed 2.1 2.9

This was not just a Pro Bowl player. Unger was an All-Pro, best of the best, in 2012. Having a high ankle sprain that cost him most of last season has almost zero projectable impact on his 2015 health. This was not a major knee injury. Unger was arguably the best player on a Seahawks line that needed good play. He was the guy who took pressure off Wilson’s shoulders by handling the line calls and getting the team into good situations. Those reduced sack numbers are no fluke.

Now the team needs to replace him and James Carpenter who stood next to him. Those are two strong run blockers for a team that prides itself on running the ball. Bringing in another set of rookies like they did in 2011 with John Moffit and Carpenter is a rebuilding strategy, not a contending one.

People want to point and say the line was a mess last year, so good riddance to Unger. He barely played last year, and his absence gave you a glimpse of just how much of a difference he can make.

I have to imagine Patrick Lewis will get a chance to earn the starting role. He played some last year, but was light years behind Unger. The team could also dip back into free agency for a veteran fill-in, or wait for someone to become a cap casualty. Reports are that Shelley Smith, a guard the Dolphins cut today, is on his way to Seattle for a visit.

The team has precious few options to fill a gaping hole in the middle of a line that will be responsible for clearing space for Lynch and providing Wilson with time to throw. This is not something that can just be thrown together. Lines usually take years to gel.

Moving ahead

Seattle has created a strength in one part of the roster by creating a weakness elsewhere. They could have spent more money on Julius Thomas and kept Unger and their first round pick. They could have taken a risk with Jordan Cameron for less money than Graham and kept Unger and their pick. Brandon Marshall was acquired for a 5th and 7th round pick by the Jets to get paid a similar amount to Graham.

This feels like a risk that did not need to be taken, and has raised the degree of difficulty for improving the offensive line significantly. Schneider can once again come out looking like a genius if he finds a way to infuse talent and stability into the line while adding elite weapons on offense. It is a tight rope, and I respect the courage to walk it.

The one thing that cannot happen is that this Seahawks team loses its grip on being the toughest team in football. It is what Pete Carroll has gotten right from the jump. Nobody was going to push this team around. Players like Graham need to prove they can play the Seahawks way instead of the Seahawks trying to be something they are not. His first reaction to this deal felt like sulking when he changed his Twitter description to “Traded.” You just joined the best franchise in the NFL. That’s who you are, Jimmy. Embrace it.

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