Jimmy Graham had flown his six-seat Beechcraft Bonanza — the hobby craft he’s had since he entered the NFL in 2010 and got his pilot’s license — “to get some food,” he said.
The $40 million tight end flew himself to lunch, onto the gulf coast of Florida. There, chillin’ on a beach Tuesday afternoon just before 4 p.m. Eastern time, the New Orleans star tight end got a call from Saints coach Sean Payton.
“Immediately once Sean said that I’d been traded, I was going through the list of everyone who had a bunch of cap space,” Graham said Thursday.
Immediately, the three-time Pro Bowl tight end and 2013 All-Pro thought the worst. As in, Jaguars or Raiders bad.
“I was thinking Jacksonville or Oakland or wherever,” he said of the AFC’s doormats.
“But when he told me Seattle, it definitely put a grin on my face.
“For me, it was moments of shock. But once that shock cleared, I realized I was going to the best team in football.”
So much for any fears Graham is not happy about getting uprooted off a Florida beach and away from the only NFL team he’s known.
The owner of 171 catches the last two seasons and 46 touchdowns in the last four years says he is “highly motivated, highly encouraged” and “100 percent on board — and that’s with everything” after meeting Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider on Wednesday and “really feeling that everything they are about is winning championships.”
“Winning is all I care about,” Graham said Thursday from his home in South Florida during a conference call with Seattle-area reporters.
“I do owe a lot to New Orleans and a lot to that coaching staff and to all my teammates and to that city for accepting me and believing in me really early. But when I look at it, the most important thing to me in my career is winning championships, winning trophies and winning rings. That’s really all I care about. So for me, it’s unfortunate to have to leave somewhere where you’ve been for so long, but when you go to an organization like the Seattle Seahawks, you can tell that’s all that’s on their minds is winning, and winning rings at that — winning championships. That’s their complete focus.
“For me, highly encouraged and highly motivated to be a part of that and to be able to contribute to that ring is all I care about at this point now.”
It was a day after Seahawks owner Paul Allen had trumpeted that Graham passed his physical. That’s one of the final steps to make official his stunning trade from New Orleans with a fourth-round pick for Seattle center Max Unger and the Seahawks’ 31st overall choice in next month’s draft.
The next call Graham got after the one from Carroll and Schneider was from his new Drew Brees, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
“He called me right away, shot me a text and we just kind of briefly spoke and talked about his goals and his team’s goals and what’s been going on and just catching up and sharing some things,” Graham said. “What I shared with him was exactly the chemistry thing. I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to go wherever I need to go and I’m going to be wherever I need to be to get with you and work on this chemistry because that’s the most important thing, is chemistry.’
“And the only way to get that is time. You’ve got to run those routes and you’ve got to catch and throw. So I’m really looking forward to getting with him and learning more about him as a player, as a thrower, as a passer. I’m excited for it.”
He met Carroll on Wednesday for the first time while taking the physical at the team’s headquarters in Renton.
His impressions of his new coach?
“Man, I love him,” Graham said. “He puts a smile on my face. He really is a players’ coach. Walking into the building yesterday, it just seems like there is a buzz around there. There was a sense of urgency. Just the way the whole coaching staff is.”
Carroll had done his research on Graham. Carroll knew he’d been dropped off at a social services office by his father at age 9 and then at a state home for foster children and orphans by his mother in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Carroll knows how Graham grew through crying himself to sleep into a largely self-made basketball star who averaged more than 20 points and 13 rebounds a game in high school. That led to four seasons of hoops at the University of Miami.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Graham played four seasons for the Hurricanes, becoming one of eight players to block 100 shots in a career. He played one season of football at Miami, starring as an athletic, leaping, largely indefensible tight end. The Saints took him in the third round of the 2010 draft.
“Literally, when he sat me down just talking about my basketball career and going back and talking about all these things he’s heard about me, I could tell that he’s a detail-oriented person,” Graham said of Carroll. “He knew so much about me — half the stuff I forgot about. That really means something, really to anybody, that he would take the time to really learn all of these individual things about me.
“He literally called about almost every person that I’ve ever been involved with in my life to find out, one way or another, how I was as a person and how I was driven. That truly meant a lot.”
He’s going from a Saints offense with Brees that threw the ball the second-most times in the league last season, 659 passes, to a Seahawks offense that threw the fewest passes, 454. That is likely to change for Seattle with Graham, especially inside the opponents’ 20-yard line where he is especially lethal against undersize defensive backs and linebackers.
“In New Orleans, we’ve really been slinging the rock … but it’s all about winning,” he said. “It’s all about having an opportunity and a chance to win a championship, and that’s what I care about. If a team needs me to catch 100 footballs or a team needs me to catch 30, or a team needs me to catch 15 touchdowns or five touchdowns, I’m gonna do it.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. I’m not complaining at all about any of that. I just want to be a part of this team and I want to be there in big moments for this team and this franchise to help us win games.”
Graham said that the last time he was in CenturyLink Field, in January 2014 for an NFC playoff game in which the Seahawks beat his Saints, he noticed the number he wore in New Orleans, 80, “was up in the rafters” retired. In Seattle, of course, that is Steve Largent.
Graham even said all the right things about that.
“Clearly that’s been retired, so 80 is done for me,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m thinking, maybe 88 will be my number. It seems like more of a round number.
“But, really, I don’t care what number they give me. They asked me that yesterday actually, which number I wanted, and they can give me any number. As long as it can be an eligible receiver I’ll be good.”
The Seahawks apparently need to look beyond Terrance Knighton as a potential addition at defensive tackle. NFL Network was the first to report Thursday that Denver’s brick wall has agreed to sign with Washington. Detroit’s Nick Fairley is among those free-agent DTs still out there. He has visited St. Louis and Cincinnati. … Free-agent pass rusher O’Brien Schofield signed with the Atlanta Falcons, reuniting him with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who became Atlanta’s head coach last month. Schofield was a preseason star for Seattle while on a one-year deal last summer, then mostly disappeared while as a situational and mostly ineffective end in the regular season.