Can it be possible we were wrong about Jimmy Graham?
By we, I mean, well, everybody. When the Seattle Seahawks acquired the former All-Pro tight end from New Orleans in March, it was universally lauded as another shrewd move by the dynamic duo of Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
Graham, a 6-foot-7 receiver with soft hands and an acute sense for the ball, would provide Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with the tall target necessary to convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. And while Graham wasn’t a perfect fit — the trade demanded some mending with future teammates who’d gotten chippy with him over the years — there were no questions about his ability to add another dimension to an offense known to stall inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
“A fantastic talent and a great weapon for us,” Carroll called Graham after the deal was sealed. “I’m sure he’ll be a great benefit for our passing game and for the production we want down there. We always want to run the football, but we need those targets and he brings us an obvious opportunity to get the ball into the end zone.”
That the upbeat head coach envisioned Graham as an end-zone weapon wasn’t a revelation. The revelation was his opinions were shared by players, coaches and executives throughout the league. Inside-football analysts were on board. Casual fans were on board. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Pope Francis and Kim Jong Un were on board.
Sure, replacing Max Unger presented a challenge — the veteran center was traded to the Saints — and exchanging a first-round draft choice for a fourth-round draft choice was one of those pills requiring a big gulp to swallow.
But Graham was on his way to Seattle. Potential touchdown passes from the 12-yard line would be lobbed up for grabs, and he’d grab them.
Is it possible we were wrong?
Five games into a football season that’s looking much like the baseball season endured by their neighbors across the street, the Seahawks’ red-zone touchdown production has regressed from among the NFL’s worst to, literally, the NFL’s worst: 27.3 percent, which ranks No. 32 in the 32-team league.
Graham’s red-zone contribution has been minimal, a charitable synonym for Hasn’t Done Squat. Inside the opponents’ 20, he’s caught two passes for eight yards and one touchdown.
Then again, an offense must advance the ball to avail itself a chance in the red zone. Over their final six possessions Sunday at Cincinnati, the Seahawks punted six times. During those six possessions, not once did Wilson identify Graham as a target.
Graham’s liabilities are no secret. He blocks indifferently — his idea of impeding a pass rusher is to sort of just get in the way — and he’s been positioned next to the tackle quite more often than he was in New Orleans. The Seahawks need to line up Graham in a place that emphasizes his strengths instead of revealing his weaknesses.
He’s built like a tight end and listed as a tight end, but he’s not a tight end. He’s a receiver. Instead of forcing him to conform to a position that he can’t play, dwell on what he does well.
Isn’t that Carroll's philosophy? To build a scheme around the athletes rather than demand that the athletes adjust to the scheme?
If the task of connecting with Graham remains a problem, a midseason trade must be considered before the Nov. 4 deadline. I get it, deadline deals aren’t as easily executed in football as they are in baseball. Football trades are fraught with salary-cap ramifications.
And yet, the Seahawks moved Percy Harvin in a midseason trade last year that precisely coincided with their rebound from a sluggish start. After dealing Harvin to the New York Jets on Oct. 18, the Hawks won nine of their next 11 games.
Connect the dots.
Other factors, we came to learn, necessitated Harvin’s departure. He was a lousy teammate whose sideline sulking in public was as poisonous as his combative behavior behind closed doors.
Despite his awkward transition into an offense that can’t figure out where or how he belongs, Graham hasn’t proven to be as wrong for team chemistry as Harvin was. But the parallels are conspicuous: Like Harvin, Graham was touted as a big-play guy destined to make a difference. Like Harvin, Graham hasn’t made a difference.
“It’s a big deal for us, and for everybody in the building,” Schneider said in March of the acquisition of Graham. “He makes everybody better.”
With a 2-3 record, the two-time defending NFC champs are pretty much resigned to taking an alternate route to the playoffs. A 10-6 finish — thinking here of a best-case scenario — means having to go on the road in January.
It’s doable, but as long as Jimmy Graham isn’t part of the solution, he’s part of the problem. He was expected to make everybody better. Instead, he’s making everybody wonder:
How could a trade that seemed so right turn out to be so wrong? How is that possible?