Saints and Seahawks Working on Blockbuster Trade for Jimmy Graham

With free agency about to begin word leaked that the Seattle Seahawks are going to trade for star tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints. In return the Saints will get back center Max Unger and a first round draft pick.

From the Saints perspective this is a shocking move. They just signed Graham last season to a $10 million a year contract in which they paid him $13 million, most of which came in the form of a large signing bonus. Graham was generally considered the second best tight end in the NFL, behind only Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots.

While the salary cap is always a concern for the Saints this is not a cap related move. Graham will now count for $9 million against the Saints cap due to that large bonus, a gain of just $2 million in space. Unger will bring back with him a salary of $4.5 million, a net loss on the move.

My feeling is that the trade is more about a fear on Graham’s future and his less than expected play than anything else. While cash flows can be an issue they will likely break even on the move. They avoid $8 million in salary for Graham this season but will pick up $4.5 million for Unger and another $3.8 million in payments to their first round draft pick. I believe the team felt it was best to strike now before there is limited value later. This will solve some future cap problems as Graham’s $12 million cap hit in 2016 will now vanish from the books.

For Seattle this is a good fit of a player for their offense. Graham is a big play guy and that is what the Seahawks will look for in their downfield passing attack. While he may not put up the big numbers he put up in New Orleans I would expect his contributions to be significant when they target him.

From their financial perspective they will take on an $8 million cap hit for Graham this season, $9 million in 2016, and $10 million in 2017. None of the money after this season is guaranteed so they can cut Graham at any time if things did not work out. They will carry a $2.2 million dead charge for Unger and gain $3.4 million by trading him. That works out to a net cap loss of $7.6 million, and about $6.4 million once you factor the draft pick in.

Seattle has seemingly moved away from the model that they constructued their team with as this is their second major trade in three years to try to improve their receiver spot. The move for Percy Harvin ended up being one of the worst trades in recent memory and he was traded just one and a half years into his tenure. Seattle will hope this one pays off much more.

  • James

    Aren’t the Saints already hurting for cap space? While this is a great way to help their cap long term, how can they afford to accelerating Graham’s bonus’ cap hit to this season? Are they going to restructure Brees?

    • NW86

      Overall this is a cap move. The money this saves in 2016-2017 will allow them to restructure some players (probably not Brees) and push their cap dollars into those years.

      • NW86

        The Saints are funny though. If they were only keeping him for one year last year, they could have kept Graham for $7M under the franchise tag. Instead, they paid him $13M and structured it to give themselves $9M dead money this year. Funny how teams with cap trouble seem to keep compounding their own problems.

        • David J. Kubik

          this helps their cap situation next year though.

        • McGeorge

          “Funny” isn’t the word I would use to describe how the Saints operate.
          They are acting like … the Jaguars or Raiders.

  • Mac MacKenzie

    Jimmy lost a bit of his edge this season; while some saw it strictly as a result of his injury, other fans here in New Orleans felt it was also an attitude thing. He surely didn’t have the scrappiness we saw from him in 2013, for whatever reason. I’m more sorry about paying for his big contract than losing him but there are a lot of folks pissed off and/or broken-hearted about it!

  • McGeorge

    I think the Saints Front Office is poorly run.
    They pay through the nose fro Jarius Byrd, then have serious cap problems the next year.
    I’m not saying they shouldn’t do this move, but they shouldn’t have done many other moves.

    Is this Sean Peyton? The GM? Who is the cap person?

    • Derek

      Very good, one of the best centers, especially in run blocking.

    • eYeDEF

      Max Unger was All Pro in 2012. When he’s on the field he’s elite as far as centers go. He had some injuries last season that caused him to miss 10 games though. And yes, the Saints did need a center.

      Graham is not expensive to the Seahawks because the Saints agreed to eat his signing bonus. You could say 9 mil a year is expensive but for an elite pass catcher it is not. That’s what Julius Thomas got and he’s not the player Graham is.

      • McGeorge

        >>Graham is not expensive to the Seahawks because the Saints agreed to eat his signing bonus.

        The Saints have no choice in the matter. It’s been paid already. The Saints get to realize the accelerated cap charge though.
        I’m not saying Graham is expensive to the Sea Hawks. Anytime you get a player after the bonus is paid, it’s probably a reasonable contract. I still think the Saints are poorly run. You can’t go signing a couple of expensive players, then next year run into cap problems. That shows poor planning.

        • eYeDEF

          As for the Sea Hawks, I don’t like the trade. Graham is older, expensive, and giving upp a #1 is a lot.

          Oh, that’s exactly what I thought you were saying here, that he’s expensive.

          Since Schneider has said that he only had first round grades on 16 players in this draft it made trading the pick a no brainer since it’s not really a first round talent at #31. I don’t see what’s not to like from their side.

          • McGeorge

            Schneider has drafted amazingly well and I would trust his football evaluation and judgment more than mine.
            If that’s what he thinks then he acted wisely.
            If he can have another draft of coming up with 2 very good players and 2 average players then he is the star of the team.

            In general, I really dislike trading away high draft picks, though on occasion it can work out.
            I’m not liking this trade for the Sea Hawks, but lets see how it works out. We’ll be better able to evaluate it at the end of the 2016 season.

          • eYeDEF

            It seemed to work out for the Rams extracting a ransom for RG3. I just don’t consider the 31st pick in a draft considered to be weak at the top to be a “high round pick”. Schneider’s a genius drafting in the later rounds anyway and they’ve got a ton of compensatory picks this year from losing so many guys in free agency last year. He also got back a 4th rounder from New Orleans which is where he has had a lot of success finding serviceable players. Personally, I think New Orleans got fleeced.

          • McGeorge

            The Rams raped the RedSkins thats for sure. But had RG3 been a top 5 QB, there wouldn’t be many complaints.
            As for the Saints being fleeced, part of the equation is how good the Center they got from the Sea Hawks turns out to be. At this point I don’t think the Saints got fleeced, but we can better evaluate in a couple of years. I think they planned poorly having to move Graham the year after signing him.

  • Derek

    Do the Seahawks just not like 1st round picks or what?

    Graham doesn’t really fit the Seahawks if you think of him as a TE because his blocking skills are sub-par for the position. If you think of him as a receiver though, he actually makes sense. Compared to wide receivers, his blocking isn’t that bad, and his receiving skills are still extraordinary. Maybe they’ll convert him to a WR.

    • eYeDEF

      They didn’t like 1st round picks this year. Schneider had 16 guys with first round grades in this year’s draft as reported by Peter King. So based on his draft evaluation, the 31st pick would not be a first round pick which is what made it much easier for Schneider to part with the pick.

  • Tanner Savage

    $5 million of Jimmy’s cap hit this year is in the form of a roster bonus that activates on the third day of the league year, so this move saves the Saints an additional $5 million on this year’s cap.

    • Shawn Poole

      how do we save 5M?

      • Tanner Savage

        The Seahawks have to pay the $5m bonus because he will be on their roster on March 12th. It goes on their books.