Graham Dealt Out of NOLA

Saints stun the world, deal Pro Bowl Tight End to Seattle

by Brandon Rush | @BrandonRush | Brandon@3PSMag.com

Last off-season the New Orleans Saints spent the better part of its time arguing against Jimmy Graham being listed as a wide receiver versus a tight end for Franchise tag financials before inking the dynamic pass catcher to a four-year $40 million contract in July. At the start of the 2015 league year, the Saints delivered one of the most shocking off-season trades in recent memory, headlining a crazy week for deals and moves in the NFL.

Where did it all go so wrong for the Saints that led to them trading away their most important offensive piece outside of Drew Brees? Look no further than the defensive side of the ball.

Going into 2014 – off an 11-5 season and a Divisional Round loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks – New Orleans looked poised to regain control of the NFC South, but no one could foresee the tribulations that would leave them with a 7-9 record and a spot outside the playoffs.

Offensively they weren’t quite the juggernaut we’ve come to know and love, but were still very effective ending 9th in points per game, and 1st in total offense at 411.4 yards per game. The bad news is they had to be that explosive because the defense couldn’t be healthy or play consistently enough to help close out games. Rob Ryan’s defensive unit surrendered north of thirty points seven times (going 2-5 in those games) and could not capitalize on a brutal division which saw Carolina take home back-to-back South Division titles despite a 7-8-1 record.

From all reports, while the wide receiver/tight end debate ruffled a few feathers behind closed doors, there was no talk of any locker room strife. Graham was well liked by his coaches and teammates, and his work to turn his raw athleticism into a viable weapon was something that kept defensive coordinators up at night.

Graham’s numbers dipped a bit in 2014, averaging 3.6 less yards per catch and six less touchdowns from his 2013 totals, but he still led the Saints in most all receiving categories.

So why deal him away?

The focus for the future has to be New Orleans looks for help on the offensive line and trying to build the defense through the draft or free agency.

Getting center Max Unger in return from the Seahawks will help, but you have to believe the Saints own 1st round pick (13th overall) and the Seahawks 1st rounder (31st) would be aimed at helping Ryan’s defense. Finding a replacement for their leading tackler Curtis Lofton is sure to be a priority, and looking for a solution to improving a secondary that came away with only 12 interceptions last year.

Also the Saints have some holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to trading away Graham, New Orleans is losing wide receiver Robert Meachem (unrestricted free agent) and Pierre Thomas (cap casualty). That trio accounted for 24.4% of the Saints yardage and 13 total touchdowns.

The trade sent shock waves through the NFL Tuesday, but could New Orleans had made the cap room without dealing away one of the greatest matchup advantages in the game? Sean Payton shook it off a business decision, but no doubt Brees is not a happy camper.

Biggest questions are now that Graham is gone, are the Saints in fire sale mode or do they try to rebuild for one more run with Brees, Payton, and Ryan. If they do stay the course from here on out, how does New Orleans replace Grahams production?

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