After years of staying away from signing big-name free agents under the Ted Thompson regime, Brian Gutekunst made a splash in his first offseason as Green Bay Packers GM. In one of his first major moves, he signed star tight end Jimmy Graham and subsequently released a fan favorite in Jordy Nelson.
The move was not a popular one amongst Packers fans, but the move was made to free up cap space and ultimately sign former Seahawks and Saints tight end, Jimmy Graham. After dominating in New Orleans with Drew Brees, Graham was shipped off to Seattle where his numbers took a big hit in the run-heavy offensive schemes.
The hope was that Graham would see a career resurrection in Green Bay. After all, Graham and Aaron Rodgers became good friends after connecting at numerous Pro Bowls.
It took the duo just five preseason quarters to connect on a touchdown. The crowd roared at Lambeau. Did the Packers finally find the tight end the offense had been lacking since the days of Jermichael Finley?
Jimmy Graham catches his first Packers touchdown pic.twitter.com/AY06VjIQOS
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 17, 2018
Unfortunately, no, at least not yet.
They tried with Richard Rodgers, Jared Cook, and Martellus Bennett. Cook had some decent numbers in 2016 and made one hell of a catch in the divisional round of the playoffs that season, but the front office decided to be stingy and let him walk. Cook is now dominating in Oakland.
Back to Graham. He recorded 636 receiving yards on 55 receptions but only two touchdowns. For being a red zone threat, recording only two touchdowns is not good at all. Rodgers and Graham didn’t click as well as people thought he would have.
Reading reactions on Twitter and Facebook all led to one conclusion, accept your losses and cut Graham.
However, as reported by Ian Rapoport, the Packers are expected to pay his $5 million roster bonus on March 15th, meaning he is likely to be on the roster for the 2019 season. For the fans that want him gone, you will have to wait another year. But here’s why the Packers are smart for keeping Graham, even if it is just for one more season.
Matt LaFleur’s offense heavily relies on a tight end. Delanie Walker would have been a big part of LaFleur’s offensive scheme if he didn’t injure his leg week one. Austin Hooper emerged with the Falcons when LaFleur was with the Atlanta coaching staff in 2015-16.
In regards to the salary cap, it makes more sense financially to cut Graham after the 2019 season compared to cutting him right now. If the front office decided to let him go now, it would save the Packers $5.3 million in cap space. That number goes down to $4 million post-June 1st. If they stuck with him for 2019, as they are expected to, the amount of cap space increases to $8 million whether he is cut before or after June 1st.
Keeping Graham for at least one more season will allow for a young tight end to develop within the system before he is thrown into the fire. Names like Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson, and Irv Smith Jr. are early options for the Packers at tight end. Personally, I think the front office should draft one of those three.
Jimmy Graham deserves one more shot at becoming the tight end the Packers offense needs.
Thank you to Mitchell Pantzke for letting us use one of his fantastic edits for the featured image! Check him out on Twitter @_Pantzke and Instagram @pantzkeportfolio