Gra­ham signed to tighten up of­fense


Green Bay — For the se­cond time in as many years, the Green Bay Pack­ers signed ar­guably the best tight end on the free-agent mar­ket. Only this time, they’ll be hop­ing it turns out bet­ter than the last.

The Pack­ers reached a ver­bal agree­ment with tight end Jimmy Gra­ham last week Tues­day, and of­fi­cially an­nounced his sign­ing Friday. News of the three-year deal was first re­ported by ESPN.

The Pack­ers also re­leased vet­eran wide re­ceiver Jordy Nel­son, sav­ing the team more than $10 mil­lion in cap space.

By sign­ing Gra­ham, 31, new gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst matched word with ac­tion af­ter an off­sea­son in which he vowed to be more ag­gres­sive in the player ac­qui­si­tion phase. A year ago, for­mer gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son signed Martel­lus Ben­nett to a three­year deal worth $21 mil­lion. The de­ci­sion back­fired in more ways than one, with Ben­nett un­der­achiev­ing on the field (24 re­cep­tions, 244 yards, zero touch­downs) and walk­ing with his en­tire sign­ing bonus af­ter the Pack­ers tried to re­coup the pro­rated por­tion ($4.2 mil­lion) through an ar­bi­tra­tor.

But in Gra­ham the Pack­ers are sign­ing one of the best re­ceiv­ing tight ends in the mod­ern era, a player whose bas­ket­ball back­ground helped rev­o­lu­tion­ize the po­si­tion along­side the likes of Tony Gon­za­lez, An­to­nio Gates and Julius Thomas.

The three-year con­tract for Gra­ham is worth $30 mil­lion and in­cludes $11 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money, but the Pack­ers can limit his take to $13 mil­lion if they de­cide af­ter one sea­son that things aren't work­ing out.

Ac­cord­ing to a source with ac­cess to NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion salary data, Gra­ham's con­tract fea­tures a $5 mil­lion ros­ter bonus due on the third day of the 2019 league year, which will take place in mid-March. If the Pack­ers don't pay the ros­ter bo- nus, they will owe noth­ing more than the $13 mil­lion Gra­ham is due to earn in 2018.

The struc­ture lim­its Gra­ham's 2018 salary-cap num­ber to $5,666,667.

His 2019 salary-cap num­ber jumps to $12,666,667. The Pack­ers can cut that by $2.5 mil­lion if they guar­an­tee Gra­ham's $5 mil­lion ros­ter bonus.

If they don't pay Gra­ham his ros­ter bonus, they will carry $7,333,333 of dead money on their 2019 salary cap.

Gra­ham has had at least 850 re­ceiv­ing yards five times in the last seven years and has reached dou­ble-digit touch­downs four times in his ca­reer, peak­ing with 16 re­ceiv­ing touch­downs in 2013 as a mem­ber of the New Or­leans Saints.

Gra­ham joins the Pack­ers af­ter three uneven sea­sons with the Seat­tle Sea­hawks, who ac­quired him via trade March 10, 2015.

There were times when Gra­ham seemed like an odd fit for the power-run­ning, quar­ter­back-scram­bling of­fense of for­mer co­or­di­na­tor Dar­rell Bev­ell. At other times Gra­ham was his typ­i­cal jaw-drop­ping self, es­pe­cially in the red zone where his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame is nearly im­pos­si­ble for any de­fender to cover.

Gra­ham, who wore No. 88 dur­ing his three sea­sons with the Sea­hawks, will wear No. 80 with the Pack­ers (the num­ber he wore for five sea­sons with the New Or­leans Saints).

Gra­ham couldn’t wear No. 80 in Seat­tle be­cause it was re­tired by the team in honor of Hall of Fame re­ceiver Steve Lar­gent.

Mean­while, Nel­son in 2017 en­dured the worst sea­son of his ca­reer since be­com­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor in 2010. Nel­son had 53 catches for 482 yards (9.1) and just six TDs af­ter lead­ing the NFL with 14 TD catches in 2016, when he also had 97 re­cep­tions for 1,257 yards (13.0).

“We can­not thank Jordy enough for all that he has given the Green Bay Pack­ers and our community for the past 10 years,” Gutekunst said in a state­ment.

“He has been an ex­em­plary pro­fes­sional and team­mate and greatly con­trib­uted to our suc­cess. Jordy will al­ways be a mem­ber of the Pack­ers fam­ily and we look for­ward to his even­tual in­duc­tion into the Pack­ers Hall of Fame.

“We wish Jordy, his wife Emily, and the rest of their fam­ily all the best.”


For­mer Seat­tle Sea­hawks tight end Jimmy Gra­ham is tack­led by Wash­ing­ton Red­skins cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man. Gra­ham signed with the Pack­ers last week.

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