Saints send Graham to Seattle for Unger and 1st-round pick
RENTON, Wash. (AP) It began with a cursory phone call and ended with the two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks landing one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
Jimmy Graham is taking his touchdowns and goalpost dunks to the Pacific Northwest.
”This is an offensive weapon that we’re adding,” Seattle general manager John Schneider said. ”A guy that is a big-time difference maker at his position. Obviously a top two or three tight end in the league.”
The Seahawks and New Orleans Saints agreed to a trade Tuesday sending Graham to Seattle in exchange for veteran center Max Unger, pending a physical. The trade also includes Seattle sending its first-round pick this year to the Saints and the Seahawks receiving New Orleans’ fourth-round selection.
Adding pass-catching options for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson appeared to be an offseason priority. But rather than going into free agency, the Seahawks went after one of the top pass catchers in the league regardless of position, and a perennial Pro Bowl tight end.
Schneider said the conversations started with New Orleans about general topics and a number of players before getting focused on Graham. Fox Sports first reported the trade discussions.
”In complementing the rest of our team, we think he’s just a fantastic target that we can implement in a number of ways,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ”It’s pretty clear he’s a big receiver, plays big, makes plays in a crowd, makes plays on top of guys. He’s a very effective player in the red zone, he has been a terrific, consistent scorer, so all of that stuff, we’re just going to fit it into our offense and make him hopefully a very complementary part of it.”
Seattle also signed cornerback Cary Williams to a three-year deal, filling a need in the secondary after injuries and the departure of Byron Maxwell to Philadelphia.
That signing was secondary to the deal for Graham, the former college basketball player who played one year of college football at Miami before the Saints drafted him in 2010. He became the favorite target of Drew Brees in only his second season with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, which led the Saints in all three categories.
Graham has yet to match his 2011 numbers since, but still led New Orleans last season with 85 receptions and 10 touchdown catches despite playing through an injured shoulder. His 889 yards receiving were third on the club last season.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Graham leads all tight ends in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns. He held out before the start of last season before signing a $40 million, four-year extension rather than playing under the franchise tag. Seattle will inherit the remaining three years on that contract.
But there may be some bridges to mend in the Seattle locker room when Graham arrives. The Seahawks’ defense was not very complimentary of Graham when the teams met in the 2013 playoffs, including a pregame altercation with linebacker Bruce Irvin, and defensive end Michael Bennett calling Graham overrated after the game.
Carroll said he didn’t believe the past comments would be an issue.
”I know a number of our players have already contacted him and talked to Jimmy, and I’m sure that helps him if he ever had any thoughts,” Carroll said.
Despite trading away Graham, the Saints should remain dynamic in the passing game. New Orleans is keeping wide receiving Marques Colston after renegotiating his contract, and the Saints have two promising young receivers in 2013 fifth-round draft choice Kenny Stills and 2014 first-rounder Brandin Cooks.
Unger has been Seattle’s starting center since late in his rookie season and fills an immediate need for New Orleans after veteran Jonathan Goodwin became a free agent. Unger was slowed by injuries last season, playing just six regular-season games suffering from ankle and foot injuries. Unger was an All-Pro in 2012 and was a big reason Seattle had the top rushing offense in the NFL.
In the six games Unger played – the first four and Weeks 10 and 11 – the Seahawks averaged 392.5 yards of offense per game, including 203.8 yards rushing. Seattle also allowed 13 total sacks in those six games and Wilson had a passer rating of 95 or higher in five of the six.
In the 10 games Unger missed, Seattle averaged nearly 30 yards less of offense, but the big drop-off was in the running game. The Seahawks rushed for just 153.9 yards in those 10 games when Unger was out.
”He is a tough, physical player where he blocked for one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL, he has been a solid contributor to Seattle’s success,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said in a statement.
Unger started the Super Bowl loss to New England, but Seattle used a trio of players – Stephen Schilling, Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre – with Unger out and there is no clear choice to take over. Lewis is under contract for next season, while Jeanpierre and Schilling both became free agents.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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