An intense contractual battle defined last offseason for tight end Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints. A year into their historic agreement, though, the Saints have moved on by agreeing to trade Graham in a blockbuster deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
Jay Glazer of Fox Sports initially reported the news. On March 11, Seahawks owner Paul Allen reported Graham had passed his physical. The Saints confirmed that Unger took his physical on Monday, with the lineman saying: "I am assuming I passed it."
Graham took to Twitter to say goodbye to Saints fans and his teammates in New Orleans:
Alex Flanagan of NBC Sports provided quarterback Drew Brees' reaction to the news:
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also briefly commented on the trade, via Terry Blount of ESPN.com: “The opportunity to get a player that can make these kinds of plays really got us excited.”
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Dolphins were also a contender to land Graham, but ultimately finished second to the Seahawks. Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole had more on that front:
On March 12, Graham spoke to reporters and commented on the trade and his time in New Orleans:
Graham, 28, is heading into the second year of a four-year, $40 million contract signed last offseason. He is due a $2.9 million base salary and $5 million roster bonus later this week, which expedited the timetable of any deal the Saints might complete. Trading Graham would eliminate $7.9 million in cash, but it would still cost the Saints $900,000 in dead money this season.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller examined the trade from the Saints' perspective, stating, "Max Unger is one of the best centers in the NFL. Saints get a 28-year-old Pro Bowl anchor for the offensive line."
It's more likely the Saints wanted to recoup value for a depreciating asset. Graham's first season under the new contract was by far his worst since his rookie year.
He made 85 receptions for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns, good numbers that nonetheless pale in comparison to his peak. Football Outsiders' DVOA metric ranked Graham 19th among qualifying tight ends, while Pro Football Focus ranked him 11th.
Nagging injuries were a culprit of the downturn last year for Graham, but so were drops. He had the fifth-worst drop rate in football last season, per PFF measurements.
Unger, 28, is a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the best centers in football. The former second-round pick has spent each of his six NFL seasons in Seattle. He is due a base salary of $4.5 million in 2015.
This is the second time in three seasons the Seahawks have traded their first-round pick. The last instance in 2013 it netted them wide receiver Percy Harvin. They undoubtedly hope this trade for Graham works out better than that deal.
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All contract info via Spotrac