Yesterday marked the second day of the official tampering period which precedes the official start to the NFL free agent signing period today at 3pm CT. My phone vibrated constantly throughout the day as updates flashed across the screen highlighting some of the most interesting and splashy free agent contract agreements.
As soon as the news came down that Drew Brees had agreed in terms to a relatively team friendly two-year, $50 million deal, most Who Dats shifted their focus to the potential signing of former Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. It had been rumored for over a week that the Saints and Graham shared “mutual interest” in reuniting down the bayou.
As the day wore on, however, talks between them stalled, and I began to wonder if another suitor had stolen Jimmy’s ear for the moment. The Green Bay Packers soon announced they had agreed to terms with Graham on a three-year deal. Today, we will find out what those terms are and if Trey Burton’s four-year, $32 million deal in Chicago helped raise Graham’s asking price out of the Saints’ comfort zone.
Graham may command north of $8 million per year from the Packers, and the direct result of this signing may have been the club’s release of 32-year-old veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson has battled age and injury most recently, but is only two seasons removed from leading the league with 14 touchdowns. Even with Aaron Rogers hurt most of last season, Nelson finished with 53 catches for 482 yards and six touchdowns.
I agree that production doesn’t equal his $12 million cap hit, but he averaged the same yards per catch (9.1) as Graham with nearly the same catches (57) and yards (520). The main difference is Graham’s undeniable advantage in the red zone. He caught 10 touchdowns last year despite functioning in an inept Seattle offense.
One thing Nelson did slightly better than Graham last year was produce first downs. Nelson reeled in 38 to Graham’s 32. I couldn’t find their third down conversion rates, but if the Saints are serious about alleviating last year’s third down woes, Nelson might be just as effective as Graham. Further bolstering this belief, between 2013 and 2016, Nelson averaged no less than 60 first downs a season.
Obviously Graham could have solved the Saints third down and receiving red zone needs, but Nelson, at the right price for a 32 year old cast off, could produce similar results that would help the Saints offense greatly. Besides, it’s not like Nelson can’t score either. He currently ranks second in Packers franchise history with 69 touchdowns.
Nelson would compliment Michael Thomas nicely, filling a need at slot receiver, especially if the Saints can’t retain Willie Snead after tendering him the lowest amount for a restricted free agent. Brees makes even the most mediocre receivers productive, and I wonder if Brees to Nelson in 2018 could resemble the instant chemistry between Peyton Manning and Wes Welker in 2013 (73 Rec, 778 yards, 10 TDs).
Welker signed a two-year, $12 million deal with Broncos in 2013, and I wouldn’t expect Nelson’s asking price to be any lower than that. $6-7 Million per year might persuade Nelson, but if the Saints can retain Snead at the $1.9 million salary he’s been offered, the salary cap flexibility and ability to be aggressive on the free agent market remains higher by sticking with Snead.
Wide receiver needy teams with boatloads of cap space will certainly have the upper hand, but if Nelson wants to ride off into the sunset with the only quarterback - not named Brady or Rogers - that can deliver his second Super Bowl ring, New Orleans should be his final stop.