Between 2011 and 2015, Jimmy Graham was one of the best tight ends in all of football.
In fact, there was a legitimate debate as to whether he was better than Rob Gronkowski during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. However, he was eventually traded to the Seattle Seahawks before the 2015 NFL Draft. On Sunday, he returns to New Orleans, but the crowd is unlikely to show him any southern hospitality.
Starting in 2011 and going through the 2014 season, Graham averaged 1,110 yards and close to 12 touchdowns per season. He was an effective red zone threat and was also effective at stretching defenses over the top. Essentially, he was a wide receiver playing at the tight end position. Graham thought that this was the case too, and his assertion was part of the reason why he was traded to Seattle. In the summer of 2014, an arbiter ruled that Jimmy Graham was a tight end for franchise tag purposes despite playing roughly two-thirds of his snaps split wide from the line of scrimmage. At that time, the franchise tag for a tight end was a little over $7 million per year while the tag for a wide receiver was a little over $12 million per season. Eventually, the two sides compromised on a four-year deal worth a total of $40 million.
After he was traded to Seattle, a lot of information came out about Graham that didn’t portray him as a team player. He was considered soft and reportedly didn’t like being touched in practice. Injuries also kept him out of many games during the 2014 season, and he was limited in the games that he did play in. It was also believed that he wasn’t particularly liked in the locker room.
When Graham left New Orleans, he sent a tweet congratulating another Saints player on his trade to New England and telling him how lucky he was to get out. That was not going to sit well with fans who love their team and feel that it is a vital part of the city. Many Saints fans have a “good riddance” attitude towards Graham, as it could be argued that the Saints got the better of the trade with the Seahawks. They received one of the best offensive lineman in the league in Max Unger, and a first round draft pick that was used to draft Stephone Anthony. Two seasons removed from Graham, the Saints are starting to get some major production out of their new tight end Coby Fleener.
These days, it isn’t uncommon for a player to play for more than one team in his career. In some cases, that player comes back with the love and respect of the fan base even if he is playing for the opposing team. In other cases, the fans are happy he is gone and would like nothing more for him to be humiliated in a place he used to call home. Expect Jimmy Graham to be greeted with a chorus of boos in his return to New Orleans on Sunday.