INDIANAPOLIS The belief the Seahawks may get rid of Jimmy Graham to save a chunk of cash? Those rumors of Seattle trading its star tight end to say, Miami, where Graham makes his offseason home?
Seahawks general manager smashed those on Wednesday here at the NFL combine.
“No. There’s no reason to think he’s not going to be part of our team next year,” Schneider said, off the side of a podium from which he spoke for about 20 minutes inside the Indiana Convention Center on the first morning of the league’s annual scouting summit.
The rumors of a Graham trade to the Dolphins have been churning harder in the last two weeks, since the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Seattle and Miami first began talking about a possible deal for Graham last year.
That wouldn’t have made a ton of sense for either team then. Graham was still recuperating from a trick patellar-tendon tear he got in November 2015 that prematurely ended his Seattle debut season following his March ‘15 trade from New Orleans. He didn’t return fully from that until deep into September.
So the Seahawks have yet to realize a full season of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catching tight end in their offense from 2011 through ‘14. Giving up on Graham after trading to the Saints two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice and before getting a full season of health would have been more of a Seattle waste of time and expense than Big Bertha.
More plausible was Seattle releasing Graham this offseason. He will turn 31 during the 2017 season and has this one, coming season remaining on the four-year, $40 million contract he signed with New Orleans in the summer of 2014, before his trade to the Seahawks. None of his $7.9 million base salary for 2017 or his $10 million salary-cap charge for this year is guaranteed. So the Seahawks could release him before his $2 million roster bonus comes due this month with zero cost and $10 million in cap savings.
But Schneider knows as much as anyone that when the Seahawks have had him healthy, they have yet to use him for the reason they got him.
It’s not that Graham hasn’t been the 80- or 90-catch guy he was with Drew Brees and the Saints. He never was going to be that in Seattle’s offense. He’s been getting a fraction of the targets he got in New Orleans. And the Seahawks have run the ball the last two seasons with Graham 107 more times (904 total rushes in 2015-16) than New Orleans did its last two seasons with him and Brees together.
Seattle got Graham specifically to fix its problems in the red zone. The Seahawks ranked 20th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns inside the opponents’ 20-yard line the season before the trade, a rate of 51.5 percent.
But two seasons later, Graham’s still lacking the requisite opportunities to truly make a difference around the goal line.
In 2015, when Graham played 11 games before suffering that season-ending knee injury in late November, the Seahawks were 16th in red-zone TD scoring, at 55.6 percent.
In 2016, they sank to 25th, scoring touchdowns just 47.6 percent of the time while inside the opponents’ 20.
Yes, even though Graham set Seahawks records for tight ends with 65 catches and 923 yards this past season, Seattle’s offense was 4 percentage points worse in red-zone efficiency than in the 2014 season that prompted them to trade for him.
Why? They simply haven’t used Graham enough near the goal line.
In 2015, quarterback Russell Wilson was still seeking chemistry with his new tight end. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin shared the NFL lead with a Seahawks-record 14 touchdown catches. Marshawn Lynch was still the lead runner and team’s identity, just before his injuries and eventual retirement. And Graham was not used to breaking off his routes to match Wilson’s improvisational scrambles.
The result: Seattle targeted Graham in the red zone nine times in 11 games in 2015, netting three receptions, one touchdown (of 1 yard, in his first Seahawks game, at St. Louis in September 2015) and one interception. Wilson had a passer rating of 39.8 when targeting Graham inside the 20 that season. Graham’s two touchdown catches overall that year were a career low.
Familiarity in year two should have spawned red-zone success. But Graham’s rehabilitation from surgery for his torn patellar tendon lasted into September. Wilson didn’t throw to him in the red zone until the third game, against San Francisco. The “crazy special,” two-touchdown night against Buffalo Nov. 7 — when he caught passes one-handed in the end zone while a defender was holding his other arm — showed what a weapon Graham is near the goal line.
“Bad man!” a smiling Wilson yelled as Graham talked in the locker room after that game, one of the few times the tight end spoke to the media this past season.
But those were as many red-zone scores as Graham had in the final seven games combined.
So, no, as Schneider confirmed firmly on Wednesday here, the Seahawks are not trading or cutting Jimmy Graham.
They have key things they still want to -- still must -- do with him.