Early Tuesday morning, I stumbled upon this ESPN piece that listed several analysts’ predictions for the free agency period. ESPN gathered seven of their NFL insiders to give their best guesses on where some of the biggest free agents will land once the league year starts next week.
When it came to All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, Field Yates actually predicted that the Detroit Lions would land the 31-year-old. I decided to pass on writing anything about it. The Lions’ need for a tight end was probably being overlooked by many fans—seeing as Eric Ebron was on the last year of his contract, and Detroit only had a couple other tight ends signed for the 2018 season—but considering Detroit’s limited cap space, it didn’t seem like they were realistically going to get into a bidding war for Graham. There were just too many other pressing needs.
Of course, this all changed on Tuesday night when Adam Schefter dropped a report that the Lions were listening to trade offers for Ebron during last week’s NFL Combine. The move would not only create a much bigger need at tight end, but it would free up $8.25 million in cap space, giving the Lions the ammunition to make a play for Graham.
“The team needs players who can beat man coverage,” Yates wrote about the Lions. “And while Graham isn’t as quick as he was earlier in his career, his 6-foot-7 frame makes him open even when he’s covered.”
Graham’s play certainly took a nose-dive when he landed in Seattle back in 2015. The Seahawks consistently misused him, and the change from a high-flying offense in New Orleans to a more finesse, pound the rock offense in Seattle caused his statistical output to drop severely. Even last year, when the Seahawks finally started to use him correctly, Graham’s impact wasn’t anywhere close to his All-Pro days in New Orleans. Ebron actually outgained Graham in 2017: 574 to 520.
But Graham’s best asset is his value in the red zone. In 2017 alone, Graham hauled in 10 touchdowns, which is just one fewer than Ebron has in his entire career. The Lions absolutely need that red-zone threat, and Graham has at least nine touchdowns in five of his eight seasons in the NFL.
So what would it cost to land someone like Graham? The site Spotrac, which lists the details of every NFL contract, has a feature called “Market Value.” This calculates notable free agents’ worth based on the contracts of similar players. According to Spotrac, Graham is worth around $6.7 million a year. Their proposed deal for Graham is a three-year, $20.2 million contract.
Annually, that would be slightly cheaper than what the Lions are currently set to pay Ebron in 2018, but that’s still a pretty hefty price to pay for an aging tight end whose best years are likely behind him. That being said, the Lions could certainly afford to make that deal if Ebron is sent packing, and it would be a nice quick-fix for the vacancy that Ebron’s trade would create.
Graham would certainly be a scheme fit in Detroit, too. The Lions’ offense borrows a lot from the Saints’ style, and that’s where Graham thrived. It would be a seamless transition for Graham, and the Lions would welcome the red zone threat.
But the Lions have to decide if Graham is worth the risk and the investment at his age. His production has undoubtedly fallen off, and he has recently dealt with drop issues. That isn’t to say Graham wouldn’t rebound in Detroit, but buyer beware.
Should the Lions pursue Jimmy Graham?
This poll is closed
Only if the Lions get rid of Eric Ebron