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.