With all of the shock and awe of Jimmy Graham being traded to the Seattle Seahawks, it's easy to overlook the pieces being dealt to the New Orleans Saints in return. The biggest piece, literally and figuratively, comes in the form of starting center, Max Unger. Unger is a soon-to-be 29 year old Hawaii native who was drafted out of Oregon in the second round (49th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Seahawks. During his six year NFL career in Seattle, Unger has been a two-time NFL All-Pro at center (2012 & 2013).
In 2015, Unger will be entering the fourth year of a five year deal worth $25.5 million. He is due $4.5 million in 2015 and $4.25 in 2016, making him the Saints' third highest paid offensive lineman this coming season, behind Jahri Evans ($6.8 million) and Ben Grubbs ($6.5 million). At 6'5" and 305 lbs, Max Unger has been the anchor of the Seahawks' offensive line over the past six seasons. In fact, ProFootballFocus.com has listed Unger as the NFL's fourth-ranked center, with his greatest strength as a run blocker, which will be greatly appreciated by Mark Ingram and his newly minted contract.
Here is a look at PFF's thoughts on Unger:
There may be some consternation about the Saints giving up Jimmy Graham in this trade but they have at least acquired one of the league’s premier centers and upgraded a fourth round pick to a first round pick with it. Though fans won’t be swooning over Max Unger’s play-making ability, he ties down the center of the Saints’ line with a quality blocker in both the run and pass games.
This season injuries limited Unger to 385 snaps in the regular season but some punishing and consistent run blocking in those limited snaps ensured he finished as our No. 4 ranked center. Only twice in his nine starts last season did Unger grade below zero and he graded above +1.0 in six of those games. But for injury this season looked like being a match for Unger’s 2012 season where he earned a +31.1 overall grade, built around his run blocking where he never earned a run block grade below -1.0 all season long.
The only red flag with Unger is his recent history with injuries. Unger missed the final six regular season games of 2014 with an ankle injury, as well as leaving the 2015 Divisional Playoff game with an ankle injury as well. Unger did play in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XLIX though. Another injury at a position as thin as center would be a crushing blow to the Saints in 2015. That being said, the Saints filled a huge void in their roster with one of the best players in the league at his position. If the fans can separate Max Unger from the circumstances in which he was acquired by the Saints, he should be regarded as a huge addition to the team.
Jimmy Graham has, deservedly, received all of the major headlines, but it is Max Unger that will have the opportunity to truly be one of the great additions of the 2015 NFL offseason. Welcome to New Orleans, Max.