The first day of free agency in the NFL saw major stars sign historic deals, topnotch free agents leave teams they spent their careers with and jaw-dropping trades. The most unexpected and possibly the most impactful transaction on Tuesday wasn’t a free agent signing but instead involved a trade between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks. New Orleans sent their Pro-Bowl TE Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for their Pro-Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round pick.
Seattle, considered the favorite to win Super Bowl 50 by affiliates of Gambling.com prior to the acquisition, is adding what many consider one of the top two tight-ends in the NFL who also happens to be one of the most productive overall pass-catchers in the league. Graham has been a monster at the tight-end position for the Saints since they drafted him in the third round of the 2010 draft producing 54 touchdowns in his first five seasons in the league. Considered an elite redzone threat, Graham will provide both a reliable target for Seattle within 20 yards of the goal line and an accomplished blocker if the Seahawks decide to hand the ball off to recently re-signed RB Marshawn Lynch.
New Orleans is most likely letting one of their franchise players go via trade to recoup value for a depreciating asset; Graham is in the second year of his four-year, $40 million deal but in the first year of the monster contract had his most unproductive season since his rookie campaign. Surprisingly, Graham did have 889 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last season but those stats pale in comparison to his production over the past few seasons prior to his contract. Seattle is hoping Graham can return to his elite status in 2015 providing much needed support to a mediocre receiving core and keep the Seahawks competing for Super Bowls.
Trading Graham eliminated $7.9 million in cash due by the Saints in the form of a $5 million roster bonus due later this week and a $2.9 million base salary. But the cap space wasn’t the only benefit of letting Graham go; the Saints are receiving one of the best centers in the league in Unger and an always coveted first-round pick (31st overall). Seattle has traded its last two first-round picks for top talent banking on experience over potential. Unfortunately, the first time around didn’t go so well with the acquisition of the explosive Percy Harvin who has since left the team for the Jets, then was released this offseason.
Unger is a great pickup for New Orleans. The interior anchor for a dominate offense line in Seattle, the 28-year-old Unger has made two Pro Bowls since being drafted in the second-round by the Seahawks and will provide stability for an inconsistent Saints’ offensive front. The Saints also now have two first-round picks to help build around Unger.
Many experts consider this trade a win for both parties. Seattle needed more offensive power to combine with their suffocating defense, something Graham should surely provide, and the Saints’ needed to unload some cap space and sure-up a lousy offensive line. Despite one team favored to win the next Super Bowl and the other hoping to at least be competitive in a lowly NFC South, both franchises believe these moves have them headed in the right direction.