Jimmy Graham Rejuvenated by Move South to Chicago
The coronavirus freeze in the NFL hasn't stopped tight end Jimmy Graham from working toward a goal of regaining the game he had before injuries and age seemed to take it all away.
The new Bears tight end insisted during a conference call Thursday with Chicago Bears media that it's possible to be the player who used to burn defenses on seam routes if he continues his current work regimen and if the virus delay ends so the league resumes its normal schedule.
"So, my knee right now is the best it's felt in four or five years," Graham said. "This is the best that I've ran. This is the fastest I've been in the last four or five years."
Graham agreed to a two-year contract for $16 million with $9 million in bonus money to help the Bears insure their offense couldn't be taken down by injuries at a vital position like occurred last year when Trey Burton was injured.
"So for me, I know when coaches turn on film, I mean, I know even during the season (2019) everybody pregame or after the game was always hitting me up just telling me just how good I look, how fast I look," Graham said. "And for me, that's everything, my ability to separate from people and run down seams. And so I know I still have that ability. I think I showed a little bit of that in the playoffs."
Graham made 38 receptions for 447 yards in the regular season and had 93 catches in two years for the Packers. In the playoff loss to San Francisco, Graham might have been at his best in Green Bay with seven receptions for 108 yards.
Being cut by the Packers with a year left on his contract only adds extra impetus to Graham's desire to prove he can still play effectively.
"Obviously it was a tough pill to swallow," Graham said. "It was the first time I lost my job. And I work extremely hard, I've sacrificed everything for this game, I've given it everything I have and obviously to go through that it was difficult.
"Now I have the opportunity to win a bunch of games this year and I'm very grateful for that and I'm obviously grateful for the opportunity and the friendships I did make just up north there (in Green Bay). But for me, it's lit a fire. I know what player I am and I know what I can do. I think I was able to show a little bit of that in the playoffs with some of the opportunities I was given."
Graham is relegated to working on his own until further notice, but calls the coronavirus freeze on NFL something he can deal with in terms of preparation for the coming season.
"If I think back to the lockout, the lockout was right before my first career start, like basically after my rookie year," Graham said. "They basically made me a starter going into my second year. There was no offseason program. There was nothing. I basically showed up at training camp and then that year I put up 1,300 yards.
"I remember I had a big wrist surgery two years later. I think it was about two years later. I had a (wrist) tear and ended up having reconstructive wrist surgery and then spent the whole offseason basically not doing anything, and then that fourth year ended up having 16 touchdowns. So for me, I work extremely hard. I've been working every day for the past few weeks, just grinding. So I’ll continue to do those things."
Graham has already expressed interest at getting in the playbook and wants to see video cuts of every tight end target the last two seasons. He sees coach Matt Nagy's offense as the closest thing he's been in to the one he started out in with New Orleans in 2010.
"Even coming off of my knee injury, that was four years ago, ended up having obviously reconstructive knee surgery, came off basically nine months later, did no training camp, showed up for the first game and ended up making the Pro Bowl," Graham said. "So, you know, for me, I’ve always done well working out and training by myself and preparing my mind."
Graham's relationship with Ryan Pace from their days together in New Orleans had an influence on why he signed in Chicago. His knowledge of the Bears sealed the deal.
He liked the idea of playing for a team with a dominant defense and a chance to improve an offense with a team that had made a big move two years ago. Seeing those "Club Dub" celebrations on video even were enjoyable, it turns out, for a Packer.
"Coming off of that, you have a team that’s hungry to win, hungry to improve and hungry to get back to the playoffs and make a chance at a ring. Ya know?" Graham said. "That's what was so attractive to me, was what I saw from the outside.
"I know how hard they play and I know how much fun they have together. And to see that from the other side but now have the opportunity to go play with that, with a team that is hungry and where everybody is going to put their head down and just work, that’s what I'm about."