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If cut, Saints should welcome Jimmy Graham home with open arms

With $10 million on the table and just 8 touchdowns scored in two years, the Seattle Seahawks face a tough decision with tight end Jimmy Graham.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints strong safety Roman Harper (41) talks with Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) following a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The infamous Jimmy Graham trade and its aftershocks have been felt all around the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints. Jimmy Graham’s old No. 80 jersey is still an easy find at almost every Goodwill, T.J. Maxx, and Academy Sports Goods from Lafayette, LA to Mobile, AL. Rabid 12’s are all over Twitter questioning whether the money invested in the embattled tight end is worth a subpar offensive line.

Graham is on the brink of the last year of a contract painstakingly negotiated in the summer of 2014. The Seahawks can free up $10 million to pursue NFL-quality offensive linemen in free agency by releasing Graham from that contract. Right now, he’s the fourth-highest paid player on Seattle’s 2017 roster with that $10 million cap hit (no dead money involved). Only safety Earl Thomas ($10.4 million), cornerback Richard Sherman ($13.631 million), and quarterback Russell Wilson ($18.8 million) are taking up more of the Seahawks salary cap room.

Simply put, Graham isn’t a great fit for the Seahawks’ offense. He is a much-improved blocker from his first tenure with the Saints and is still a dynamic receiving weapon downfield, on the perimeter, and in the red zone. But quarterback Russell Wilson has been bombarded with pass rushers because the Seahawks have neglected his protection. The Seahawks may be better off reinforcing the line than paying a top-level tight end. For what it’s worth, wide receiver Doug Baldwin had 30 more targets than Graham despite appearing in the same number of games.

There are prospects in this draft class who are younger, healthier, and cheaper than Graham and could fill in for him. He just turned 30 years old this past November. With nine picks to spend, the Seahawks can efficiently replace him with someone like David Njoku (another Miami Hurricanes tight end), O.J. Howard (Alabama), or Evan Engram (Mississippi).

Should that happen, and Graham be willing to bury the hatchet with his former team, the Saints should welcome him home. The connection he had with Drew Brees was rare and at times unstoppable. With a tight-knit locker room rebuilt in the 2009 championship team’s image and other standout receiving threats like Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, and Brandin Cooks, Graham could again be a vital piece in Sean Payton’s offense.

The important thing is that the Saints don’t need Graham again to field an elite offense. The latest version can do things previous years’ teams couldn’t like win straight-up rather than with mismatches. Bringing Graham back into the fold would be polishing off an already-impressive product.

But before any of that can happen, before big men like Jimmy Graham and Sean Payton can reach across the aisle and reconcile, the ball is in Seattle’s court. All we can do is watch.