Yet another Green Bay Packers free agent is heading to Seattle for a visit.
Tight end Jared Cook will visit the Seahawks, as first reported on Monday by NFL Network.
Cook is regarded as the best tight end on the free-agent market. He will join running back Eddie Lacy and the big one that got away from the Seahawks last weekend, Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang, as former Packers making visits to Seattle in this free-agency period that began Thursday.
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Cook’s sliding, sideline catch for Green Bay in January’s divisional playoffs at Dallas set up the Packers’ winning field goal. Green Bay stopped negotiating with Cook about possibly re-signing him when the Packers team decided to sign free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett from New England instead last week.
News of Cook’s visit spawns questions about what Seattle has in mind for top tight end Jimmy Graham.
Graham is entering the final year of the four-year, $40 million deal he signed before his trade from the Saints in the spring of 2015. Per that contract, the Seahawks just gave Graham a $2 million roster bonus on the third day of this league year. That was Saturday. His base salary for 2017 is $7.9 million, none of that guaranteed. Graham’s salary-cap charge to the Seahawks this year is scheduled to be $10 million.
We’ve also discussed why Graham isn’t going anywhere right now.
Cook turns 30 next month. He had 30 catches last season, his only one in Green Bay. He had 91 receptions the previous two years with the Rams.
The Seahawks’ interest in him is more likely tied to the fact the team could soon lose Luke Willson, its No. 2 tight end the last few years, in unrestricted free agency this spring.
It’s also related to what offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said months after the Seahawks traded for Graham in 2015: two tight-end formations are among his favorite to call.
Ask the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots --and their foes last season -- how effective two, top tight ends in the same formation can be in today’s NFL.
Here is more of why Seattle courting Cook is not because the team is going to shed Graham:
▪ The only tight end on the roster currently signed past this year is Nick Vannett. He was either hurt or mothballed as a rookie draft pick out of Ohio State last year.
▪ The Seahawks aren’t as strapped for cap space and cash as they were in recent seasons; they had $18.6 million available as of Monday according to overthecap.com. That’s not a lot under the cap. But it’s not up against it, either. Not enough to release Graham because they absolutely need that $10 million.
▪ Seattle’s offense has yet to have Graham free from the effects of injury for an entire season.
▪ Even when the Seahawks have had Graham healthy they haven’t used him for the reason they got him.
Seattle traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice to New Orleans in March 2015 to get the 6-foot-7 most prolific receiving tight end in the game 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.
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 a season-ending knee injury in late November, the Seahawks were 16th in red-zone TD scoring, at 55.6 percent.
Last year they sank to 25th. They scored 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 while making the fourth Pro Bowl of his career, Seattle’s offense was 4 percent lower in red-zone efficiency with him than in the 2014 season that prompted the team to trade for him.
The Seahawks simply haven’t used Graham enough down close.
In 2015, quarterback Russell Wilson was still seeking chemistry with his new tight end. Doug Baldwin was co-leading the NFL with a Seahawks-record 14 touchdown catches. Marshawn Lynch was still the lead runner and team’s identity, just before his first injuries and, ultimately, retirement. And Graham was not used to having to break off his routes to match Wilson’s improvisational scrambles.
The result: Seattle targeted Graham just nine times in 11 games in the red zone in 2015, for only three receptions, one touchdown (of 1 yard, in his first Seahawks game, at St. Louis in September) and one interception. Wilson had a passer rating of 39.8 targeting Graham in the red zone that season. Graham’s two touchdown catches that year were a career low.
Familiarity in year two should have spawned red-zone success. But Graham’s rehabilitation from surgery for his tricky torn patellar tendon in his knee from November 2015 lasted into September 2016. Wilson didn’t throw to him in the red zone until the third game last season, 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.
Those two TDs that night were as many red-zone scores as Graham had in the final seven games of 2016 combined.
So, no, looking at Cook is not part of Seattle looking to get rid of Graham.
The Seahawks have yet to use Graham in the places and situations for which they acquired him. They have one more season coming up to do that, before having to decide if he fits their plans -- and budget -- beyond 2017.