For the third straight year, the Green Bay Packers are dipping into the free agent market at tight end in an effort to improve the position on their roster.
This time around, the Packers are signing former Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham to a three-year deal with the terms of the deal undisclosed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky speculates that Graham’s deal will be in the $30 million range, meaning an average annual salary of $10 million per season for the former Pro Bowl tight end.
In-order to create the cap room that would allow the Packers to sign Graham and other free agents, new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst had to make the tough decision to cut ties with wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a fan favorite over the last nine seasons of his career in Green Bay. The cutting of Nelson will add $10.2 million to the Packers’ available cap space.
“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 released by the Packers on Tuesday. “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.”
Not only was Nelson a fan favorite, he was also star quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite. The Rodgers-to-Nelson connected on 65 touchdowns during Nelson’s tenure in Green Bay. That is the most touchdowns between a quarterback and wide receiver in Packers franchise history, and Rodgers and Nelson broke the previous mark of 58 during the 2016 season. That 58 touchdown mark was held by Brett Favre, and his receiving connection with his favorite wide receiver during his playing career, Antonio Freeman.
Rodgers composed the following Instagram post regarding the release of Nelson, describing the day as a “sad day”:
Hard to find the right words today to express what 87 means to me. No teammate exemplified what it means to be a packer quite like him. From living in GB full time, his incredible contributions to the city, state, and region, to his consistent, reliable play on the field. Definitely a sad day and the toughest part of this business. There will never be another quite like white lightning. #leader #brother #friend #baller #loyal #champion #legacy #intact #stillcanplayball #backshoulder #1stSBTD
It’s very likely Rodgers will like throwing to Graham though, as Graham’s 10 touchdowns in 2017 made him the top touchdown leader among tight ends. Only Rob Gronkowski (76) and Dez Bryant (73) have caught more touchdowns in their careers than Graham’s 69 since Graham entered the league in 2010. Rodgers was also said to be recruiting Graham to come play for the Packers, and the two had previously talked in the past about playing together someday.
2017 was a year to forget for the Packers tight end position. It looked like they had things all figured out there for the foreseeable future when both Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks inked multi-year deals, but both of the two ended up under performing, and the Packers actually ended up cutting Bennett mid-season as a result. The Bennett situation turned into an ugly public divorce for the two sides, with the Packers still attempting to recoup his $6.3 million signing bonus even though an arbitrator ruled in favor of Bennett getting to keep it.
Bennett didn’t catch a touchdown for the Packers in 2017, and Kendricks only ended up catching one. That means Richard Rodgers had the only other Packers tight end touchdown in 2017, tying them for last in the league among touchdown catches by a tight end.
While Graham doesn’t grade out well as a pass blocker, the Packers offensive line is usually always one of the best in the NFL, so ideally, receiving tight ends fit in better with the Packers than blocking tight ends. Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley were the last two tight ends to really thrive in Green Bay in the Rodgers era, and they were both considered receiving threats instead of blockers.
Before signing with the Packers, Graham was in serious discussions about returning to the New Orleans Saints to play with Drew Brees again. However, Graham and the Saints couldn’t iron out a few discrepancies they had, so Graham chose to head to Green Bay instead.
The 31-year-old Graham appeared in all 16 games for the Seahawks in 2017, catching 57 passes for 520 yards and those previously mentioned 10 touchdowns. Just the year before that, Graham caught 65 passes for 923 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was ranked the 11th best free agent on The Game Day Report’s Top 50 NFL free agents list.
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Packers Sign TE Jimmy Graham, Release WR Jordy Nelson