Why Jimmy Graham Isn't Another Ryan Pace Free Agency Dud
Graham's production the last two years and the way he played for the Green Bay Packers made it seem as though he has lost at least a step from his days in New Orleans and Seattle.
There are several reasons why the Bears looked at Graham instead of any number of other options, and the first obviously has to do with GM Ryan Pace's familiarity with Graham from their days in New Orleans.
This isn't enough, and there was more to it.
For one, they were pushed to this option after failing on their No. 1 choice. Austin Hooper was reported as a target leading up to free agency and he went for far more than they were going to be able to pay a tight end at four years and $44 million.
The next most accomplished tight end on the list was Eric Ebron, whose reputation for dropping passes precedes him. Ebron was given a market value of $9.5 million from Spotrac.com, which made him more affordable than Hooper but the Bears obviously count those dropped passes against Ebron or they could have turned his way. Considering they also are paying Trey Burton and Demetrius Harris, along with a slew of other low-priced tight ends, every dollar counts here and Ebron wasn't worth the extra expense. Apparently others believe this, too, because he's still unsigned.
Greg Olsen could have been a Bear but they showed no interest at paying the $7 million for one year Seattle gave him and chose to pay more for Graham.
Olsen might be a better choice for some teams, but he didn't block when he was younger and at 35 years old he'll block even less. Burton was ranked the No. 1 blocker among tight ends in the NFL in 2018 and so blocking from the U-tight end is vital to the Bears offense. The Bears need some blocking from a U-tight end. While Graham isn't known for leveling defenders in the running game, he is bigger and definitely more capable physically of engaging and moving a defender aside than Olsen.
One option who ultimately pulled in the same amount as Graham, except over three years, was Dallas' Blake Jarwin. But the Cowboys weren't about to let him get away and eventually paid a little more than Graham got and were willing to sign him before Jason Witten, even though he's never had more than 31 receptions in a season.
Witten was still available, but if people thought Graham was over the hill, then they need to see Witten. He signed shortly later with the Raiders for $4.75 million,
Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert were both options but could never be considered serious options after what Pace said following the season about his two tight ends in 2019.
"We like those guys but we need availability at that position," Pace said.
Neither Reed nor Eifert could be counted on for availbility after all the concussions Reed has had and Eifert's lengthy list of injuries.
Delanie Walker fits in the same category as Eifert and Jordan. He's played eight games the last two years and is going to be 36 when the season starts.
So as much as no one wants to admit it, once the Bears couldn't pay Hooper and didn't deem Ebron worth pursuing, the only logical choice remaining who wasn't injured too much or 35 or 36 years old was Graham.
There is another reason Graham fit better than some of those available in free agency.
Last year the Bears were 24th in the league at scoring touchdowns in the red zone at 52.2%. It's Nagy's goal to turn field goals into touchdowns.
Harris is 6-foot-7. Graham is 6-7. They had Shaheen because he is 6-7, although he doesn't play to that height. Quarterback Nick Foles is 6-6. They can take a route to touchdown passes most defensive backs can't hope to defend.
So Graham may have his uses, and if they need those two second-round draft picks for either an offensive lineman, safety or a cornerback, then one of the draft's better tight ends is out of the question as well.
Graham was the best available option under the tightly defined circumstances.
Whether the Bears could have altered their signing strategy and prioritized a better tight end for more money at the risk of not signing someone at another position is a matter open to debate.