By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks gave up several draft picks for the right to sign Percy Harvin to a massive deal last offseason. Might they be one of the few teams who could make an even bolder move a year later?
That's the question that has been posed by a handful of media members wondering if Seattle could be willing to pay the exorbitant cost it would take to acquire New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, whose unsettled contract situation has led to speculation about the possibility of a trade. Those suggesting it would make sense have cited the decreased value of the two first-round picks the Seahawks would have to relinquish in a trade for Graham, who would upgrade a passing offense that ranked among the lowest in the NFL in terms of production from its tight ends.
It's a move that is highly unlikely if not out of the question entirely for a number of reasons, one of which lies within the not-so-flattering opinion Seattle's Michael Bennett publicly shared of Graham last season.
"Nobody likes Jimmy Graham. I think he's one of the softest players in the NFL," Bennett told 710 ESPN Seattle after the Seahawks' divisional-round win over New Orleans. "I think he's overrated and I really don't like him as a person or as a player. ... When he's not in the game he's not in the game. He doesn't help on the blocking plays. I think he's just overrated."
It's not the awkward situation those comments could present in Seattle's locker room that would seemingly preclude such a move but the one specific shortcoming in Graham's game that Bennett mentioned. Graham is not known for his blocking ability, which is either because of a lack of desire and/or ability. And while that's mitigated in an offense that is centered around its passing game like New Orleans', it wouldn't be in one like the Seahawks', which ran the ball more than every NFL team but one in 2013.
There's no argument about Graham's credentials as a pass-catcher. He's a 6-foot-7 matchup nightmare and one of the league's best offensive weapons, and he has the staggering numbers to prove it. Graham not only led NFL tight ends last season with 86 receptions for 1,215 yards, but those totals ranked among the top 15 regardless of position while his 16 touchdowns were the second most of any player.
He could certainly make a significant impact on Seattle's passing offense, which was 27th in receptions by tight ends last season with the trio of Zach Miller, Luke Willson and Kellen Davis.
The question is whether the upgrade Graham could provide would be prohibitively expensive in terms of money and draft-pick compensation.
Graham is seeking a multi-year deal, presumably one that would pay him something similar to what the league's best receivers make. After all, not only has he produced like one but he's been used like one. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Graham lined up either in the slot or out wide on two-thirds of his snaps last season. That will undoubtedly be cited as a reason why he deserves a deal averaging north of $9 million a year, which would surpass that of the NFL's highest-paid tight end, New England's Rob Gronkowski, and be more in line with what top receivers make.
In the meantime, the Saints have placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Graham, which buys them time to reach a multi-year deal but also means he can negotiate with other teams with one giant caveat: New Orleans would receive two first-round picks from whatever team that signs him.
The Seahawks gave up three draft picks – including a first rounder – for Percy Harvin, whose contract is taking up a good chunk of the team's financial resources. (AP)
If any team would ever be willing to give up two first-round picks for a franchise-tagged player it would be one in their position. The Seahawks have the last pick in the first round this year by virtue of winning the Super Bowl, and barring a flop in 2014 they figure to be picking late in the first round again next year. Even for a team picking earlier, there's no guarantee that either one of the two players it drafts in the first round ends up panning out let alone being as productive as Graham has been in his four seasons.
And the Seahawks have shown a willingness to part with considerable draft capital for an offensive player they deem worthy of a giant contract. It happened a year ago when Seattle sent a first-, third- and seventh-round pick to Minnesota for Harvin, then gave him the richest deal in franchise history.
But while there's some precedent for such a bold move, trading for Graham might not be financially feasible for the Seahawks.
Seattle won the Super Bowl thanks largely to several star players who were playing on either cost-controlled rookie contracts or bargain deals signed in free agency, but that window of financial flexibility is closing. All-Pro defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are eligible for extensions that they could receive this offseason. Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson will be in the same situation a year from now. Golden Tate, the Seahawks' leading receiver, is an unrestricted free agent as is Michael Bennett, their most productive pass rusher.
Seattle's roster is getting expensive, which would make it difficult to take on a contract like the one Graham will command. It also increases the need to find cheap labor through the draft, and trading away two first-round picks would make it much harder to do so.
The Seahawks will likely look for ways to improve their passing offense, especially with regards to the production from their tight ends. It's just hard to imagine them doing so by paying through the nose for Jimmy Graham.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.