Jimmy Graham flew to a beach on the gulf coast of Florida — but not as a passenger; the business-degree holder with a double major in marketing and management from the University of Miami is a pilot, too.
He was hanging out in the sand and sun Tuesday when he got two calls. One was from the New Orleans Saints, his only NFL team of his five-year pro career. The second was from Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
A day later Graham flew again, presumably with someone else piloting him, to the opposite coast and corner of the country. And certainly with someone else now piloting his standout career.
Schneider confirmed Wednesday morning Seattle’s prized catch of a tight end was due to arrive in the afternoon at Seahawks headquarters in Renton to take his physical examination to complete the stunning trade. Seattle’s sending of center Max Unger and a first-round pick to New Orleans got Graham off that Florida beach Tuesday — and to the two-time defending NFC champions, who profess their quest for greatness has no end.
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Since the day after the Super Bowl — really, since the day after the Super Bowl before that, in February 2014 — Schneider and Carroll have been repeating a mantra and drilling it into every person in the franchise:
“For us, there is no finish line.”
This remarkable trade for the most accomplished tight end out there is a continuation of their philosophy that two consecutive Super Bowls is not a crowning achievement but an accomplishment along a never-ending trek towards sustained excellence. Graham has three Pro Bowl selections in his five NFL seasons and was an All-Pro when he caught 16 touchdown passes in 2013.
Seattle’s trek includes parting with one of the longest-tenured and most beloved guys in its locker room.
“Yeah, any time you’re making these types of trades for a player like this, it’s not just going to be a hand-over,” Schneider said. “Both teams had specific needs. For us, obviously we’re going to miss Max’s leadership. He’s been a core part of what we’ve been doing the last couple years. He was here when we got here (drafted in 2009 by the previous regime).
“But we have to continue moving this thing forward. We always talk about not having any finish lines, and this is just part of it. Tough decisions. But exciting futures as well.”
How exciting? The league — and in particular team headquarters — were still buzzing Wednesday about the Seahawks’ surprising coup.
They got a 6-foot-7 catching machine who plays and leaps and boxes out defenders like the basketball player he was. Graham averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds a game in high school in Goldsboro, North Carolina, then played four seasons of hoops at Miami. He remains one of eight Hurricanes with 100 blocked shots in a career.
He played just one season of college football before New Orleans made him its third-round draft pick in 2010.
The Seahawks also received the Saints’ fourth-round choice in the draft that begins April 30 in this trade that provided a scintillating start to the league’s fiscal year.
“It’s a big deal for us, everybody in this building,” Schneider told Seattle’s 710 ESPN radio Wednesday from the team’s Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“He makes everybody better.”
Except Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Not anymore, at least.
“I’m as shocked as everyone else,” Brees said to the NFL Network soon after Tuesday’s trade of the player to whom Brees has thrown 171 completions and 26 touchdown passes the last two seasons.
Schneider and his Seattle scouting staff had only 20 or so players graded as first-round talent. So he was perhaps thinking of trading the Seahawks’ 31st overall pick anyway. He estimated that selection would have cost the team $3.5 million in salary and a signing bonus this year. He had traded his first-round pick in each of the previous two drafts.
Now it’s three in a row. He also upped his cap cost by about $4.6 million to massively upgrade a barren position. Four Seahawks tight ends last season caught almost half (48) the passes Graham caught himself (85).
And the Seahawks aren’t done, either.
“We are on course. We are on budget,” Schneider said. “We have a lot of goals, a lot to accomplish.”
The next ones are shoring up both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Fox Sports reported Wednesday night Stefen Wisniewski was on his way to visit the Seahawks. Wisniewski was a guard at Penn State and in his rookie season of 2011 for Oakland before moving to center for the Raiders the last three seasons. Seattle line coach Tom Cable loves versatility among his blockers.
The Seahawks hosted Miami free agent guard Shelley Smith on Wednesday with the potential of a relatively minor deal with him. Smith has started 11 games in four seasons for three different teams. Seattle is shopping for a left guard to replace James Carpenter. Their former first-round pick agreed to a $19 million, four-year contract Tuesday with the New York Jets.
A bigger potential splash is Denver brick-wall defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. The Colts, Chargers and Redskins are reportedly very interested in signing the run stopper; he was visiting Washington on Wednesday.
Schneider also mentioned on 710 ESPN on Wednesday there were “some hurt feelings” that had to be mended with Marshawn Lynch’s camp following the team not redoing the 28-year-old star running back’s deal before last season. He said, as he has before, the Seahawks didn’t want to set the precedent of renegotiating or extending a contract that still had two years remaining on it.
He also said the parameters of Lynch’s two-year, $24 million extension through 2017 he signed Friday that guarantees him $12 million this coming season essentially got worked through with agent Doug Hendrickson late last month in Indianapolis during the NFL combine. That means it took Lynch weeks — including a trip to Turkey and back — to decide whether to agree to it before he did Friday during a meeting with Schneider, Carroll and Seahawks owner Paul Allen at team headquarters.
As for the expiring rookie contracts of two-time Super Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson and All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks want to extend those two for big paydays, Schneider said he met with Wilson’s representatives “a couple weeks ago” and with Wagner’s at the combine.
He said those representatives “know we have certain things we have to get accomplished, to improve the team in general, and then we’ll get into that.”
As their wowing, out-of-the-blue-sky trade for pilot/pass catcher Graham shows, they’ll get into just about anything.