The New Orleans Saints recently utilized the franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham. This means any team that wants him needs to write a fat check and relinquish two first-round picks. That is the NFL equivalent of losing a body part.
But Graham still could leave without an issue.
Around the league, Graham is viewed by general managers, scouts and coaches as almost a tight end deity. They talk about him the way Wall Street dudes talk about a world without government regulations. It's astounding to hear.
"I think the only players more valuable than Jimmy Graham are three or four quarterbacks," said one AFC general manager. "That's it."
It's true love.
Thus, several general mangers say the Saints will have to fight to keep Graham, and the heavy price tag will not be as intimidating to some teams. These executives believe a handful of franchises are preparing offers to get Graham. They say this isn't speculation. However, no teams have officially revealed their hand. So, for now, it's partially speculation.
The best way to state this: Word is beginning to leak around the league that one or more teams will make a run at Graham and are more than willing to give up two first-rounders to get him. What hasn't leaked yet are the names of the teams.
Seattle? The Patriots? It's not certain, but the consensus seems to be the franchise(s) poised to make a run at Graham are among the bottom half of the draft. (A sleeper candidate I continue to hear is Baltimore.) And do not rule out teams that have salary cap issues, like the Patriots. I've seen it a dozen times—teams that want a player bad enough always somehow find the cap room. Even if they have to cut players, the lawn dude and the cheerleaders.
(A Packers official did tell me the idea of Green Bay salvaging its future for a tight end was "dumb beyond dumb…won't happen.")
And yes, as talented as Graham is, as game-changing as he can be, anyone giving up two No. 1 picks—even lower top picks in the 20s and 30s—would be a ding dong.
Let's start with what type of player you can get at the bottom of the first round. The Ravens found future Hall of Famer Ed Reed at 24. Pittsburgh's Alan Faneca has gone to nine Pro Bowls and he was selected at 26. The Patriots' Logan Mankins was picked at 32. Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green was taken by Washington at 28. Ray Lewis was the 26th pick. Dan Marino 27th. Hell, Jerry Rice was selected at 16.
All draft picks are valuable, but first-rounders are the lifeblood of a franchise. Trade those away and you'll be left with draft crumbs.
Graham puts up huge numbers, to be sure. He's talented, yes. Yet there is almost a manufactured aspect to the statistical prowess. Graham plays half of his games indoors, catches passes from one of the most accurate passers of all time and is part of an offense that throws constantly. None of that would happen in rainy Seattle or run-heavy Baltimore.
There's also this: Graham is soft. As soft as the Stay Puft Marshmallow man.
It's difficult to forget a scene that happened this past postseason in Seattle. Before the game, Graham got into a scuffle with Seahawks players. It was childish and silly of him. Then, once the game started, he was a non-factor.
When Graham goes against physical corners who don't back down, and have his size and aggression, he can be controlled. He backs down. He shrinks. It is true there are few secondaries like Seattle's, but the Patriots also held Graham without a single catch when the teams played this past season. The catalyst of that effort was the physical and big Aqib Talib.
Graham is good, but he's also a front-runner—a physical freak who can be corralled by other physical freaks.
So, yes, dumb beyond dumb to give up two huge picks for Graham.
But some sucker just might do it because teams have done plenty of dumb things before...and will again.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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