Jimmy Graham returns to scene of his best years

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Jimmy Graham 2013
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The career of Jimmy Graham has come full circle. The longtime NFL tight end signed a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.

The career of Graham appeared to be in doubt before his surprising return to the Crescent City. Now 36, he perhaps benefited from a year off from the game, healing a body battered by 12 years of pounding in the league.

Whether Graham can contribute or not will not affect what he has already contributed to the Saints. Based on his accomplishments with the Saints, Graham is a strong bet to be in the Saints Hall of Fame whenever his playing days are done.

A third-round draft pick out of Miami, Graham was a late bloomer as a football player, known for his basketball prowess prior to taking to the gridiron. Graham was one of the very best draft picks in franchise history, as the 95th player chosen in the 2010 draft.

Graham was a scholarship basketball player at Miami, where he played on the hardwood four seasons. As a graduate student, Graham played one season of football and posted modest numbers for the Hurricanes, catching 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games.

The Saints saw the enormous athletic ability and potential in Graham and made a very wise investment.

In his rookie season in New Orleans, Graham flashed his skills, playing in 15 games, catching 31 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns.

Graham’s second year was simply amazing. In 2011, the Saints had perhaps their best offense ever, if not their best team ever. Drew Brees and Graham were never better than they were that season. Graham accumulated career highs of 99 catches and 1,310 yards. He scored 11 touchdowns. The Saints lost a last-minute heartbreaker in the NFC Divisional round, 34-32 at San Francisco.

In 2012, Graham, somehow, was passed over for All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors despite catching 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns.

Undaunted, Graham backed up those two brilliant seasons with a magical season in 2013 when he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and an NFL best 16 touchdown receptions.

In his final year with the Saints, Graham had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014 as he battled injuries. His average yards per catch dropped significantly and there were a few too many drops, fifth most in the league that year. Some speculated that the Saints wanted to make a move with a very highly paid player before his form dropped off measurably. Additionally, there was the return of a top-flight center to upgrade an offensive line in need of an upgrade.

When Graham was with the Saints, he was simply the very best receiving tight end in the NFL, a nightmare matchup for any opponent.

When Graham was with the Saints, he was with one of the best, if not the best quarterback in the NFL at that time in Brees.

The Saints offense was never quite the same without Graham, and Graham;s career was never the same without Brees, Sean Payton and the Saints.

In five seasons with New Orleans, Graham earned All-Pro honors twice and made three Pro Bowls with three seasons of 1,000 yards receiving or more, a rare milestone for any receiver.

Jimmy Graham 2013
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Shockingly, the Saints traded Graham to the Seattle Seahawks following the 2014 season on March 10, 2015 for center Max Unger and a first-round draft pick, which turned into Stephone Anthony, not exactly the return you hoped for on that end of the deal.

Graham never came close to the production he had in New Orleans with the Seahawks, Packers and Bears. The marriage with Brees, Payton and the Saints was truly saintly, made in Heaven.

Now, Graham returns to New Orleans to put a cap on his career. Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Mark Ingram had that opportunity most recently.

Will Graham he be able to actually play again for the Saints? It is a legitimate question, with Juwan Johnson and Foster Moreau entrenched attached at the position. Taysom Hill is listed as a tight end and will line up there on occasion. Jesse James, who has eight years in the NFL, is also in the mix.

It would certainly appear on the surface that Graham will be part of the team in a specialized role, based on comments made by Mickey Loomis and Dennis Allen today.

Regardless of the outcome, having Graham return to where he was at his best is best.

Whatever wounds existed from whatever possible falling out occurred nearly a decade ago are erased by the move. Graham was shocked by the trade at the time. Brees expressed shock as well.

Now, the time to put that moment in the past has arrived. So has Graham. That is shocking, but in a good way.

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Ken Trahan


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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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