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The Return of Jimmy Graham to New Orleans

Week 8’s matchup features the return of a once beloved tight end back in New Orleans.

NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On March 10, 2015, the Saints traded a fourth-round pick and tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks in exchange for a first-round pick and center Max Unger. Many Saints fans experienced collective heart failure that day, as their favorite player was jettisoned to an NFC rival. The Seahawks were looking for a red zone threat, while the Saints were looking to clear cap space and strengthen the offensive line. Both teams got what they wanted.

Almost a season and a half later, the trade’s ripple effects can still be felt by both the Saints and Seahawks. Many have dissected the trade, including CSC’s own Chris Dunnells. At the time of Dunnells’ writing, Stephone Anthony (the Saints’ first-round selection with the acquired trade pick) had finished a fantastic rookie campaign in which he played almost every defensive snap and led the team in tackles. The young linebacker seemed like icing on the cake after center Max Unger brought his Pro Bowl level play to the Crescent City.

Despite Anthony’s swift drop-off in playing time and production this season, the Saints are still reaping the benefits of Unger’s strong and steady play at center. They recently rewarded him with a contract extension, keeping him in the black and gold through 2019.

All of that aside, I still miss Jimmy Graham - a lot. Even though they got similar production from Benjamin Watson last year, it was clear the Saints had lost a major threat in the red zone. The Seahawks, on the other hand, had a hard time getting the same production out of Graham while also losing a cornerstone of their offensive line.

Graham’s 2015 season took an extra hit when he tore a patellar tendon in his knee. Following his injury, the Seahawks actually started running the ball much better and tallied enough wins to squeak into the playoffs. After a full offseason of rehab and recovery, though, Graham seems to be getting back to his old tricks.

Against the Cardinals in Week 7, Graham caught 5-of-10 targets for 53 yards. That’s pretty good considering he had missed practice last Thursday with a hip and knee ailment. In fact, Graham has made an appearance on the injury report every week this season, but has yet to miss a game.

Against the Falcons in Week 5, Graham caught 6-of-9 targets for 89 yards. He blew up against the Jets in Week 4, catching 6-of-8 targets for 113 yards. In Week 3 against the 49ers, Graham began his 2016 resurgence by catching 6-of-9 targets for 100 yards and his only touchdown of the year so far. Though his first two games of 2016 were not as stellar, the tight end still averaged well over 10 yards per catch. Through the first six games, he has averaged 15.1 yards per reception.

So every time Graham catches the ball, it’s pretty much a guaranteed first down. He has continued to show he can play through injury and produce at the same time. His blocking still sucks, but after the Seahawks lost Luke Wilson for the season, Graham is the best option they have remaining on the roster at tight end.

I expect Graham to play with a lot of emotion this week as he steps foot into the Superdome for the first time since being traded. His feelings then were obviously hurt, and he hasn’t missed an opportunity to throw shade at the Saints organization since. No one on the field will feel he has more to prove than Graham as he faces the franchise that traded him within a year of extending his contract. And though he has been battling a couple injuries lately, Graham’s production has remained steady over the past month in particular.

Saints linebacker Craig Robertson better get ready, because he’s going to be covering one salty tight end this coming Sunday.