The 2018 NFL free agency period starts a week from today, March 12th, with teams given a two-day “legal tampering” window before contracts can be signed at the start of the new league fiscal year on March 14th. It’s okay to get excited.
Multiple reports broke this afternoon on mutual interest in a reunion between the New Orleans Saints and its wayward son, Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham played out the contract he originally signed with New Orleans before being traded to Seattle, and is scheduled to be a free agent.
The Advocate’s Nick Underhill reported that a Saints source believes the team could have some interest in bringing Graham back to New Orleans, and that much-speculated bad blood between Graham and the team over ugly contract negotiations is long-gone. CSC contributor Deuce Windham heard things matching Underhill’s description.
At the same time, the Times-Picyaune’s Josh Katzenstein reported that Graham would be interested in rejoining the Saints. This backs up a report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero naming New Orleans as one of several teams considering Graham in free agency. We know it’s something on the minds of current Saints players, with Cameron Jordan getting in on the recruiting act.
There’s no denying that Graham is a different, lesser talent than he was in the past. The Seattle Seahawks coaching staff never figured out how to use him despite several years of tape on hand, and that futility played a part in them all getting axed this spring. Mix that poor play-designing with a bad foot injury, and Graham’s sagging production makes sense.
But he still has more to offer than anyone on the roster right now. Graham converted more third down targets into first downs (6 of 24) than all of the 2017 Saints tight ends combined (5 of 14). Graham also turned 10 of his 15 receptions in the red zone into scores, which is twice what the Saints tight ends managed altogether.
Graham isn’t going to average 60 yards a game like he did in the past, but he can absolutely catch 60 passes and score 8+ touchdowns without breaking a sweat. The vision is there for this to work out. The Saints could sign him to a low-cost two-year deal, and designate Coby Fleener a post-June 1st release to free up enough salary cap space to sign their draft class. Let Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui handle the dirty work as blockers.
Maybe they pick up a talented rookie like Mike Gesicki (Penn State Nittany Lions), Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State Jackrabbits), Durham Smythe (Notre Dame Fighting Irish), Mark Andrews (Oklahoma State Cowboys), Ian Thomas (Indiana Hoosiers), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina Gamecocks), Christopher Herndon (Miami Hurricanes), Marcus Baugh (Ohio State Buckeyes), or someone else I forgot to get up to speed behind Graham. This is a great group of second-tier tight ends who will take a year to nail down the playbook and get ready for a starting role, which fits Graham’s limited shelf life perfectly.
Again, we’re a week out from anything becoming certain. Maybe Graham doesn’t even get to sit at a table and talk shop with New Orleans, or they go in a different direction in free agency - NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that the Saints will be “going hard in the TE market for sure”, in pursuit of Graham or anyone else like Trey Burton (Philadelphia Eagles) or Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals).
But ignore all that: wouldn’t it be fun?