It doesn’t make me happy to write this. Not by a long shot.
I’m not afraid to admit that I pretty much loved the trade immediately after it happened. I didn’t love losing yet another first round draft pick, but I thought everything else was fine. Graham is a dominant red zone presence. He seems like a good clubhouse guy (or, at least, not the fucking maniac that is Percy Harvin). He plays a position of need (tight end/receiver). Max Unger had spent the better part of the last few seasons on the training room table, was getting up there in age, and looked to be well on his way to breaking down and leaving the league. Plus, with Unger’s constant injuries, it felt like our offensive line was getting by with Okung and Smoke & Mirrors anyway, so what would it matter if we skimped on that if we could drastically improve the rest of our offense?
Well, I think it’s safe to say things have sufficiently blown up in our faces so far. The Seahawks have yet to beat a team with a winning record (Chicago at 4-5 is the best so far, and they were without their top quarterback and wide receiver in that game). The offensive line has been just so fucking miserable. The passing game seems to focus so hard on getting the ball to Jimmy Graham just to avoid criticism from the press that our quarterback is missing other wide open targets. And, most mind-bogglingly of all, the passing game ISN’T directing its concentration to him enough when we get near the endzone!
That’s why I wouldn’t say Jimmy Graham is the reason why this trade is a failure, ignoring a couple bad drops in the Cardinals game. I just happen to agree with the sentiments of the Hawkblogger and others. It’s hard to integrate skill position players into your already-established offense. These things generally take years to develop, not weeks. And, ideally, they’re established by bringing in rookies and draft picks; guys who more easily adapt and can grow into your system. Jimmy Graham was already an established player when he came here. He had years and years of experience in the New Orleans system, which is about as different as it gets compared to what the Seahawks have been running the last few years. So, it’s reasonable to expect some growing pains when trying to integrate him into your system. It’s also not entirely UNreasonable that he may never truly mesh with our system, and our offense will continue to struggle accordingly.
It’s still possible for him to take this year, and the next full offseason, to get fully comfortable with what we’re trying to do (just as it’s possible for our coaching staff and quarterback to figure out how to use him when we’re close to the goalline), and end up being a force for us in 2016 and beyond. At that point, maybe I have to go back and renege on these comments of the trade being a disaster. Except, here’s the thing: if the Seahawks fail in their goals for 2015, the trade will STILL be a bust. Because those goals are winning a championship, and failing in that goal means we’ve lost yet another year in our ever-dwindling Championship Window.
Now, obviously, I’m not going to sit here and cite Jimmy Graham as the sole reason why the 2015 Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl (or get to the Super Bowl, or win the division, or make the playoffs, or …), but I will say that our struggling offense as a whole is the primary reason why things have gone so poorly so far. Did the defense give up some late 4th quarter leads? Absolutely. Did our offense do anything to extend those leads, or prevent the other team from getting the ball back? Absolutely not. The defense hasn’t been its sharpest, there’s no doubt about it. But, if we’re weighing the reason why the 2015 Seahawks are on the outside of the playoffs looking in right now, more than 50% of the blame falls on the offense as a whole. That has to do with play-calling, that has to do with line play, that has to do with the quarterback’s decision-making and poor execution, that has to do with Lynch’s nagging injuries, that has to do with the receivers not getting open, and yes, that has to do with Jimmy Graham. You can divide that pie however you see fit; shit done gone wrong with this group. But, a lot of it comes back to the Jimmy Graham trade as a whole and the chain reaction of repercussions that have followed.
Like I said, it’s partly the play-calling; the focus on getting the ball in Graham’s hands. And, in a major way, it has to do with the offensive line, which we’ve been talking about all year. Last I heard, Max Unger has been relatively healthy this season; at the very least, I haven’t heard of him missing any games. What would this team look like without Jimmy Graham, and with Max Unger?
Considering the center position has been a trouble spot, I’d like to think Unger’s presence would be a huge bonus for us. Considering Justin Britt has been a nuisance at left guard, I’d also like to think Unger’s presence would be a double-bonus for us: he could assist in double-teams, and/or he’d be there to call out protections like he did so well in the past. And, who knows? Maybe with Unger in there, we’re able to use someone like Patrick Lewis at left guard; at the very least he probably gets a chance to push Britt for playing time in practice, right?
Unger is signed to a moderate contract in 2016 ($6 million, $1.5 million in dead money, should he be released). Jimmy Graham has cap hits of $9 million & $10 million in the next two years (with $0 in dead money should he be released). One thing you can say that helps soften the blow of this trade is that the Seahawks haven’t extended Graham, or otherwise turned any of his money into guaranteed money (not to say they won’t do that this offseason, to free up some cap space, but they haven’t yet, so I’m calling that a silver lining for now). Also, if we never made the deal (or any other type of similar deal), you have to wonder what the Seahawks would have done differently in the draft. Do they go after the top-rated college tight end? Do they shore up the O-Line? Do they end up with Tyler Lockett in the third round? After all, the Seahawks did trade the 4th rounder they got from New Orleans in that package with Washington to move up to get Lockett. Does that deal still get made? Or, do the Seahawks go wide receiver with their first round pick and let someone else nab Lockett?
We’ll never know all the other variables. As such, we won’t really know how to dissect this trade until it’s all played out over the next few years. Maybe the Seahawks miss out on the playoffs this year, but maybe they return with a vengeance in the next couple years and win that Super Bowl trophy again. If that’s the case, do we even care what happened in 2015?
If you forget the variables, and take the trade at face value, then yeah, the trade has failed us. There’s still time to turn it around, but the odds are long; the hole we’ve dug ourselves into is probably too deep. It’s going to take a lot of improvements on the fly in the second half of the season – as well as a mighty winning streak against some fairly stiff competition (the Steelers, Vikings, Rams, Cards won’t be pushovers).
The lesson we have to learn is: don’t take the guys in the trenches for granted. You want to have a good offense? You need a good quarterback (1-A) and you need a good offensive line (1-B). Or, at least a competent offensive line, and not the worst fucking offensive line in the entire league. Take the Pats, for instance. They got the quarterback, check. We’ve got the quarterback, check. When the Pats – with their good quarterback – have an offensive line that gives him even a smidge of time, the Pats do very well on offense. When the Pats’ O-Line struggles (as it did early in 2014, for instance), they tend to lose games, as Brady gets knocked around and starts to look his age. Same deal here. The Seahawks don’t need to have a line on par with the Cowboys, or those old Holmgren teams; something middle-of-the-road like we’ve had in recent years will do just fine.
Save your trades and your bigtime free agent signings for positions where it’s easier to integrate. With your skill position guys, it’s always best to stick with the home-grown crop, even if they’re not as flashy or as good as some available veterans. I’d rather be winning, and still contending for a division title, with a group of pedestrians, than losing and vying for a better draft pick with hired guns who don’t necessarily fit into our system.