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All signs signifying a return to Green Bay for Packers' Jimmy Graham

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All signs signifying a return to Green Bay for Packers' Jimmy Graham

-- Not very much clarity was offered on Wednesday in regards to the respective futures of Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews, but Brian Gutekunst was a little more commital about tight end Jimmy Graham.

The Green Bay Packers' general manager is well aware of the season Graham had in the first part of his stint with the team, but is very much "looking forward" to what he could do in his second season.

Graham was the fourth tight end to sign with the team in the last three years. They acquired Jared Cook in 2016, Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks in 2017 and finally, Graham and Marcedes Lewis in 2018. Of the bunch, Graham and Kendricks are the only ones to play a second season in Green Bay.

The jury is still out on whether or not the Packers will retain Kendricks or Lewis, both of which have contracts that expire next month.

Graham was often nurturing his knee throughout the regular season and ended up playing with a broken thumb. Even still, he played in all 16 games for the third consecutive year --  the first two being with the Seattle Seahawks -- and accounted for the most receiving yards (636) by a Packers tight end since Jermichael Finley recorded 667 in 2012.

The Packers committed to Graham with a three-year, $30 million dollar contract with a roster bonus of $5 million expected to be paid out to Graham shortly after the beginning of the new league year. That, alone, seems to support the belief that Graham will return in 2019.

He never truly meshed with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who at various points throughout the season, seemed hesitant to high-point his throws and present Graham with an opportunity to go vertical and compete for a catch.

While Graham, 32, could be well past the point in his career where he can pose as a mismatch against opposing defenses, he'll have new life in an offense under Matt LaFleur.

Tight ends featured in the previous versions of Mike McCarthy's offenses haven't been able to truly impact a game in any sense, whether they're asked to provide a big-bodied threat across the middle of the field or as blockers. But LaFleur could find a way to maximize Graham's potential with reimagined concepts fresh designs that would get Graham in space.

"That's a great question because you don't know," LaFleur said at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine when prompted on if Graham could mold into his former self, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN. "Especially when you're coming in from the outside, you don't know exactly what he was going through physically and whatnot. Anytime you're dealing with a guy who's got a little bit of mileage on him, I think we have to be careful in how much we ask of him throughout the week."

To accompany Graham in his return, the Packers could use one of their two first-round picks in April to draft one of the two Iowa tight ends, whether it be T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant. Or they could sit tight and hope Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. falls into the second round where the Packers could swipe him up with their No. 44 selection.

Pairing Graham with a young, athletic tight end would not only benefit Graham in lowering his workload in his 10th season, but a rookie tight end would also reap the rewards of learning behind a veteran at his position. Especially someone of Graham's caliber, who was believed to be an eventual Hall of Famer during his time with the New Orleans Saints.

The Packers could have saved over $5 million in cap space -- on top of the current $36 million number they sit at, which is ranked 14th-most in the league -- if they released Graham between now and mid-March. That figure would be closer to $9 million towards their salary cap next year if they designate him as a post-June 1 cut. 

However, all signs point to Graham returning and getting another opportunity to figure it out with Rodgers. As of now, Graham, Robert Tonyan and Evan Baylis, an undrafted free agent, are expected to be the only tight ends remaining on the Packers' roster before they make any additions via free agency or the draft.


Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (27) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Coldworld's picture

Not exactly a surprise on Graham given prior comments.

Personally, I’d like to see more focus on:

a) Tonyan. He flashed potential on a number of occasions. What is his ceiling? He seems to be overlooked in any TE analysis I read.

b) Blocking TE or even FB who can catch as safety read or in designed misdirection plays. Can Lewis still do that? He played so little it’s hard to judge his blocking since no rhythm whatsoever. We know he can catch. Personally, if he can play i’d Like to see us look for a young blocking type with hands to sit behind him for a year.

Drafting a TE high depends on Tonyan’s perceived potential for me. At this point I don’t see anything to write him off and, if so, a rational basis for spending high draft capital on a TE this year.

Since '61's picture

At this point, assuming that Graham remains on the roster I would settle for him not causing any interceptions in 2019. Without Graham Rodgers would have had 0 picks in 2018.

597 pass attempts with zero picks would have been a first in NFL history. In any case, Graham looks very slow and unable to create separation any longer. Plus he is ineffective as a blocker for supporting the ground game. The other issue is that he doesn't practice early in the week during the season which limits his time to get in sync with Rodgers. This was evident throughout the 2018 season.

If we're going to retain Graham and run 2 TE sets we need at least one TE who can block and who has a decent set of hands.

I like the idea of drafting either Hockenson or Fant and starting him with Mercedes Lewis in our 2 TE sets.
However if we keep Graham I would not expect $10 million in cap space to sit on the bench so it looks like we're stuck with Graham. Time will tell.
Thanks, Since '61

sam1's picture

It looks like Graham has shoes of cement! Hopefully is lumbering was due to knee injury!

carlos's picture

He does look slow, unless walking was hard last season, let alone running. We never know how banged up these guys are. Everything, as we all know,is so tight lipped. Im ready to move on.

Old School's picture

So Jimmy Graham is so good that he can have one of the best seasons for a TE in Packer history while lumbering around in cement shoes?

He lumbered his way to 9th among TEs in the league in yardage and yards/reception?

If that's lumbering, I'll take it. Personally, I've seen guys lumber that were moving a lot slower than that.

Handsback's picture

Another TE to watch for later in the draft is Andrew Beck from TX. He was their H-Back/Fullback, can block and catch. Most have a 6 round value on him. The Packers with two 6 round picks could use one on him.

Coldworld's picture

This year, that is the type of player that we need more than anything.

Moreover, it is a type we will need in future years and which has become increasingly rare despite being unglamorous.

Tundraboy's picture

Ron Zook is coaching in the AAF. Lmao

scullyitsme's picture

McCarthy thinks he’s coaching high school basketball now also.
I actually had respect for McCarthy till today. Even though he didn’t get it done with the pack I thought as a person he was at least ok. But there’s nothing lower than one of those screaming parents at sporting events. Nothing.

stockholder's picture

I would like to see Cheezehead TV bring him in for some draft interviews. Needs. Why some selections wouldn't work and why some didn't in the past. It would be interesting for his opinion. Fox should hire him try him out.

Coldworld's picture

Be interesting that is for sure

TheBigCheeze's picture

Graham sucks........GET HOCKENSON !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AgrippaLII's picture

Keep him for another season? I still can't see why he was signed in the first place! Gutekunst is stuck with him now!

Scrum's picture

Fun fact, both INT were not on Graham. Watch the the tape.

The first one against BUF was tipped by a lineman and forced the ball to be behind Graham and he had to reach back to try and knock it down.

The second one was thrown behind him, thus allowing Roquan Smith to tip it before it even got to Graham. He never touched it.

Old School's picture

As Simon and Garfunkel said,

"All lies and jests,
still a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest"

Jimmy Graham is one of the great TEs of all time and is very probably going to the HOF. He had one of the best seasons for a TE in Packer history last year, despite the dysfunction on offense.

All the people who've gone on record as saying that Graham is washed up, can't run, blah blah blah, are going to look stupid after this season. I can't wait.

Coldworld's picture

When there is a bandwagon, the dust that it kicks up obscures common sense. The only factual argument worthy of discussion regarding Graham is his cost.

The aspect of that causes me concern is the fact that they played him with his hand in a splint seems somehow typical of the old regime’s fear of trying something or someone new even when common sense screamed to do so. Rather like the reluctance to elevate Jones to starter.

crayzpackfan's picture

How important are great TE’s on the field at the same time? Anyone remember Keith Jackson and Mark Chumura? How cool would it be to have that again in GB for Rodgers final 4-5 years?

HankScorpio's picture

ML loves to run 2-TE looks. I think it is imperative that the Packers grab one of Fant, Hockenson or Irv Smith in the draft.

However, if Gute retains Graham, it is quite clear that he sees talent I don't. Maybe that's why he's the Packers GM and I'm not. Or maybe he's wrong and I'm right. The former is far more likely. The latter is not unprecedented.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I still like Irv Smith a lot, but he magically got 1.5 inches shorter the other day. He is still a 2nd round prospect if he runs in the 4.6s range.

Old School's picture

I like Smith, too. What I'm seeing on the draft sites that Smith is most likely to go in first half of the second round, 32-48. Our second round pick @44 might do the trick.

Of course, I'm hoping we'll trade down from our first round positions and get more second, third, and early 4th round picks.

Ryan B Dub's picture

It’ll be nice to see Jimmy Graham retire. Never wondered about until last year. I hope Green Bay finds and utilities talent and stays clear of fantasy football this year.

Doug Niemczynski's picture

T.J. Hockenson, Iowa TE: NFL Draft 2019 profile:

Get High On The Hock !!
Get High On The Hock!!
Get High On The Hock!!

Packers are fools if they don't take him at #12.
I know it's a little risky, BUT,

Listen and think about this before you give me a thumbs up or down. How many TEs do you know who can CATCH and BLOCK at the same time. He is an All Around TE.

I CANNOT think of ANYONE except maybe Gronk and maybe, maybe Jordan Reed who us HURT all the time. Dont know about Hunter Henry.

A guy like this may not come around for years and he is READY day ONE!!

Old School's picture

OK, I have a question.

We ran about 1000 plays last year
640 were passes
333 were runs. That was last in the league, and we'd have to run it 100 more times just to be average. Many people, including myself, wish that we'd run a little more and pass a little less. That's going to shorten the game and we'll have even fewer offensive snaps.

We targeted the TE position 124 times, most of those to Graham (89).

I don't understand how the math supports bringing in another receiving target if the plan is to run more and use the backs more. Are we going to throw it less to Adams? To MSV or Brown?

Don't get me wrong.....I like the guys from Iowa....I just don't understand why we'd want to spend such a high draft pick on a TE. Especially when we have a future HOFer at TE right now.

Scrum's picture

You're argument immediately loses all credibility when you think Jordan Reed is a blocker. He's worse than Graham.

Doug Niemczynski's picture

I was asking about Jordan Reed..maybe George Kittle ...SF..TE

In any event. You want to run the ball. Gotcha, so, your telling me that having the 2 BEST blocking TEs in the NFL with Mercedes Lewis and TJ Hockenson is NOT going to improve the run game even more. Are you kidding me?

And, with Hockenson as a double threat as blocker and receiver you keep those 3rd down drives alive and if they would make some plays M. Lewis that would be super beneficial.

Doug Niemczynski's picture

If the Packers do not take Hockenson at #12 he will be gone by the timr the Packers pick at #30.

Doug Niemczynski's picture

Hockenson is a double threat.

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