Jimmy Graham is “doing great” is his rehabilitation from tricky knee surgery but the team does not yet know when he will return.
Bruce Irvin knows the Seahawks are either going to be able to carve out a mutually agreeable contract value -- or the team and its linebacker/top draft choice from 2012 will part ways amicably during free agency next month.
There’s no reason for Seattle to doubt running back Thomas Rawls will return from a broken ankle and torn ligaments in time for the start of the 2016 season.
But the Seahawks are not going to anoint Rawls as their replacement for retiring Marshawn Lynch -- not until they bring in more running backs to continue their credo of “always compete.”
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Those were the news items from general manager John Schneider’s annual talk to the media Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine here at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Jimmy’s doing great. He’s down in Miami, working with some people down there,” Schneider said when I asked about the centerpiece tight end’s recovery from patellar-tendon surgery Dec. 2. “He’s doing great. He’s got a great attitude about it.
“Obviously, it was a devastating injury for him at the time. He’s a great guy. He’s got a great attitude about it, and he’s ready to get after it.”
Graham tore the patellar tendon in his right knee, a relatively rare injury compared to anterior cruciate-ligament tears, on Nov. 29 when his leg crumbled under him going after a pass in the end zone during Seattle’s win over Pittsburgh. The Orthopaedic Trauma Center at the University of California-San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital states for patellar-tendon repairs: “After the surgery, it typically takes between six and eight weeks for the tendon to heal. During that time, the knee is kept straight in a brace for a majority of the time to allow the repair to heal without stretching out. Once the surgeon has determined that the repair is healed, physical therapy begins in order to regain motion of the knee and strength in the quadriceps.”
Six to eight weeks of the tendon healing would put Graham into the first week of March of perhaps being in a straight-leg brace. Schneider didn’t specify Wednesday if Graham was still in such a brace. But suffice to say, he still has a long way back.
He has two, non-guaranteed seasons left on the $40 million contract Seattle inherited from New Orleans in its trade last March for the NFL’s most productive pass-catching tight end from 2011 into 2015.
I asked Schneider if it was realistic to expect Graham back for the start of training camp at the end of July, or at least for the start of the 2016 regular season in early September.
“Uh ... on February 24th? Uh...,” the GM said, rolling his eyes and shrugging under a grin.
“I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. It was a very significant injury.”
Schneider was much more bullish on the chances of Rawls returning for the start of the season. Asked if their was any reason for the team to think the breakout star as an undrafted rookie last season until he got hurt Dec. 13 at Baltimore won’t return for next season’s first game, Schneider said: “No, not at this point. No. He’s doing a great job, working his tail off.”
The GM noted what a great mentor he had in Lynch.
“I know he is attacking his rehab, just as Marshawn would if he was in that situation,” Schneider said.
He stopped short of saying Rawls is taking Lynch’s place as lead back. At least he and the Seahawks aren’t going to make that proclamation 6 1/2 months before the 2016 opener. Seattle has some shopping to do first, and $6.5 million more to do it with as its savings under the 2016 salary cap from Lynch retiring. The Seahawks could bring back late-season addition Christine Michael as a restricted free agent. They almost assuredly will let 35-year-old running back Fred Jackson leave now that his one-year contract has ended.
“We look at it like we’re going to try to add as many guys to that position as we can, much like we are offensive line or… we’re just going to keep bringing in as many guys as we possibly can,” Schneider said. “You hear me talk about being in as many deals as we possibly can. That doesn’t necessarily mean being in specific negotiations. It’s just an avenue of acquisition.”
Just as it always is for him and coach Pete Carroll at running back, on the defensive line, in the secondary, at linebacker -- everywhere.
What else would you expect the co-gate-keeper of his and Carroll’s “always compete” mantra to say?
Schneider has talked to Irvin. The linebacker said in the team’s locker room in Renton the day after Seattle’s season-ending playoff loss at Carolina Jan. 17 he’d be willing to take below potential market value in free agency that begins March 9 to stay with the Seahawks. Minutes after that loss to the Panthers Irvin stated how much he will always appreciate Schneider and Carroll for drafting him 15th overall in 2012 and making him an every-down linebacker when most of the league saw him as a pass-rush-only guy with a checkered background worthy of a far lower status out of West Virginia.
Pass rushing has become perhaps the second-most valuable commodity in the pass-happy, blitz-heavy NFL behind quality quarterbacking. So even though Irvin has gone from eight sacks his rookie season to two, 6 1/2 and 5 1/2 the last three seasons he is likely to command as an unrestricted free agent next month near an annual value of the $7.8 million he would have made in 2016 had the Seahawks picked up his contract option.
That may be at least $2 million per year more than Seattle can afford, given its pressing needs to spend and replace on the offensive line and at defensive tackle this offseason.
“I love Bruce,” Schneider said. “It really, truly is a big puzzle we have to work through. I’ve met with Bruce individually. He knows how we feel about him as an organization. He knows that we are either going to be able to make it work -- or we are just going to give him a big hug and congratulate him (on getting a rich, new deal with another team). That’s just the way this league is right now.”
Seattle has 18 free agents this offseason. Schneider said he’s talked with left tackle Russell Okung, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and representing himself without an agent as an unrestricted free agent -- the GM called those talks “very unique” and “odd.” Left tackle is another premium position, and the Seahawks seem destined to lose Okung to a higher bidder, too. Re-signing free agent J.R. Sweezy at the less-expensive position of right guard is more of a team priority this offseason.
“We’d love to have all of our guys back. Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to have them all back,” Schneider said. “We have to set up a pecking order.”
Carroll is scheduled to speak to the media here in Indianapolis on Thursday around noon Seattle time.