The Seahawks just made the biggest splash of the brand-new league year.
New Orleans has agreed to send superstar tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round draft choice to Seattle for Seahawks' two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round pick. The News Tribune confirmed that the terms of the surprising deal Fox Sports' Jay Glazer broke just before the NFL league year began at 1 p.m. Pacific Time today are accurate.
Russell Wilson has already talked to Graham this afternoon, plotting offseason workouts together, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
The mega deal pulled off over the last three days through talks between Seahawks general manager John Schneider and the Saints instantly gives Seattle one of the most dynamic tight ends in the league to fill a hole vacated by Friday's release of former starter Zach Miller. The Seahawks used four tight ends last season because of injuries, not including part-time blocking end Garry Gilliam sliding over at times as a rookie undrafted tackle.
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"This is a fantastic job by John to get this lined up. This is so rare to get these opportunities, to get that done," Carroll said this afternoon. "Yeah it's a continued message we are competing. You've got to keep moving forward. And it takes big decisions like these to do that."
The 28-year-old Graham, a six-year veteran, three-time Pro Bowl selection and 2013 All-Pro, has 85 and 86 catches with 10 and 16 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Seattle's four tight ends last season had 48 catches and six touchdowns combined.
"We've added a guy who is a big-time difference maker at his position," Schneider said, knowing Seattle ranked 20th in red-zone scoring of touchdowns last season at a 51.7-percent rate.
The highest-paid tight end in the league signed a four-year, $40 million deal with New Orleans before last season. He has been scheduled to earn $2.9 million in a guaranteed base salary with a $5 million roster bonus due for the Seahawks to pay on Thursday, with a $100,000 offseason workout bonus, as well. His base salary for 2016 is $8.9 million. For 2017 it's $7.9 million.
The trade won't become official until after each player passes physicals in a couple days, Schneider said.
As for the homework the Seahawks did before making this deal as compared to the team's last huge, offseason trade in 2013 for Percy Harvin from Minnesota that also sent away Seattle's first-round draft pick, Schneider said: "We think we learned from our previous deal with Percy."
Graham comes at a steep cost befitting his value. Unger was the foundation of an at-time shaky Seahawks offensive line, its chief communicator who had a strong bond with quarterback Russell Wilson. Unger has two years remaining on his contract he signed before the 2012 season with Seattle, which drafted him in the second round in 2009 out of Oregon. His base salary for this year is $4.5 million and for next year it's $4.25 million.
So this big trade appears to add $3.5 million to the Seahawks' 2015 salary cap and would leave them with an estimated $15.5 million to spend under this year's cap. That's nearly the amount the Seahawks saved by terminating Miller's contract Friday after he failed a physical following two ankle surgeries. Miller's cap cost was scheduled to be $3.39 million this year, with a $1 million acceleration charge against the cap for releasing him..
So essentially, the Seahawks releasing Miller plus trading Unger and their 31st-overall draft choice for Graham, who was second in the NFL among tight ends with 85 receptions (five behind Chicago's Martellus Bennett), and New Orleans' fourth round choice cost them a net $1.11 million against their 2015 cap.
With the league salary cap starting at $143 million per team this year, that's essentially a net wash for the man widely considered to be the best receiving tight end around.
"In some respects it actually helps us," financially, Schneider said. "It turns out a first-round draft choice costs close to three and a half million. And to go out and sign a tight end to a big bonus ... would cost more.
"We are on course. We are on budget. We have a lot of goals, a lot to accomplish (yet this offseason)."
Unger's departure is a signal to how much the Seahawks and in particular line coach Tom Cable likes Patrick Lewis at center. Unger's recent backup of many years, Lemuel Jeanpierre, is a restricted free agent. Lewis took Jeanpierre's job and started last season when Unger missed 10 games with foot and knee injuries. Seattle claimed Lewis off waivers last August from Green Bay, released him, then brought him back off Cleveland's practice squad in October. Lewis started four games for Unger last season and drew Cable's praise for strength and adaptability.
"We are going to figure it out as we go," Carroll said, noting the team has competition if nothing else after having four centers play last season.
Two of those -- Stephen Schilling and Jeanpierre -- just became unrestricted free agents on Tuesday.
"We hope to let the competition take over. We've got depth," Carroll said.
"We are going to miss Max,"
At least one veteran Seahawk is going to miss Unger:
...while welcome a new weapon in the passing game that in theory should get Baldwin open more:
And as great as Unger was communicating along the offensive line and being the unit's glue in synchronization with Wilson, he missed 13 games the last two seasons due to injury -- yet the Seahawks still were first and fourth in the NFL in rushing the last two seasons largely without him in the middle.
So Lewis is the heir apparent at center.
And Graham is the best tight end the Seahawks have had in ... eons.