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Can the Course of Jimmy Graham’s Career Be Reversed?

Jimmy Graham - November 2018

Jimmy Graham (80) is defended by New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports


One of the hallmarks of the Thompson-McCarthy era was releasing players while they still had productive years of football left in them. It looks like the Gutekunst-LaFleur pairing is trying to avoid such a mistake with respect to Jimmy Graham.

We all know that Jimmy is being overpaid. Regardless, it does appear the Packers are going to keep the tight end around for at least the middle year of his three-year $30 million deal. So, what are his prospects for 2019?

For the record, I was completely unenthusiastic when the trade was announced, for the simple reason that Coach McCarthy had so rarely made productive use out of his tight ends.

But with McCarthy gone, I’m intrigued by the notion that Coach LaFleur can get Jimmy trending up again. My hopes rest in no small part on the path that Jared Cook’s career has taken.

Though Cook didn’t turn in great stats when he was with the Packers in 2016, that’s easily explainable by his injuries. When he was healthy, his ability and value were obvious. After one year in Green Bay, the front office insulted and lost him by trying to low-ball him on a new contract. He left in a huff for Oakland, who gave him a two-year deal at $5.3 million per.

In 2017, Jared stayed healthy, started all 16 games, and caught 54 passes for 668 yards and two touchdowns. Then in 2018, the big guy performed up to what I was expecting had he stayed in Green Bay: 68 catches, 896 yards, and 6 touchdowns. At the conclusion of the season, the 10-year vet was named to his first Pro Bowl. And these fine numbers were achieved with a mediocre QB, Derek Carr, making the throws!

As an offensive coordinator, LaFleur didn’t have much to work with in the tight end department. In 2018 with the Titans, he had Luke Stocker and Jonny Smith, who combined for a bit more than 400 yards. With the Rams in 2017, his two top TEs, Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee, fared only slightly better.

Will a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro tight end get LaFleur and his staff salivating? LaFleur likes to talk about putting players in positions where they can be successful. Here’s his chance.

Or should we consider Jimmy washed up? The guy is just over 32 years old. He is still 6’7” tall and presumably still around 265 pounds. How much production might he have still in him? Well, he’s had five seasons of gaining 889 yards or more through the air. Though most of them came courtesy of Drew Brees, as recently as 2016 he went for 923 yards when with Seattle and Russell Wilson.

I detect glimmers of hope that Jimmy will rebound from a less than stellar 2018, when he had 55 catches for 636 yards and only two TDs.

First, it was Graham’s first year paired up with Aaron Rodgers, and history tells us it takes lots of time for Aaron to feel comfortable and confident regarding his receivers.

Second, Mike McCarthy chose to semi-platoon Graham all year long. Even when he was healthy, Big Mike regularly brought in Lance Kendricks, Marcedes Lewis, or Robert Tonyan to spell him. Does a 32-year-old – and one making so much money – need to be rested so much?

Jimmy Graham - Packers vs Rams 2018

Jimmy Graham (80) looks on against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Broken Thumb

Third, in the tenth game of the year, at Seattle on November 15, Graham injured his thumb. It was reported everywhere the next day that he had broken his thumb. Days later, however, Graham indicated that, rather than sit out for from four to six weeks, he intended to play at Minnesota against the Vikings, and indeed he did, on November 25.

At the time this happened, I looked around the internet to find out more info about the injury. I just did so again, and still cannot get any details about the “broken thumb.” We know that Clay Matthews once played several games with a broken thumb, but he wore a “club” the size of a bowling ball. Graham wore a much smaller cast or brace, or it would have been inconceivable for him to be a pass receiver.

I’ve got to believe that Graham’s injury was of a different level of severity that Clay’s. Even so, it seems that Graham went beyond duty’s call in playing in every remaining game of the season. Unfortunately, in those games he was unable to pull in several key throws that were contested by defenders.

Though his first six games, Jimmy was headed toward a fine season: he had 27 catches for 349 yards, which projects through 16 games to 72 catches for 931 yards. But from the Seahawks’ game forward, Graham never exceeded 50 yards in a game, and the Packers finished out the year with two wins and five losses.

Many wrote Jimmy off after that painful series of late-season non-catches. I think that’s premature.

In mid-December, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky quoted Graham as saying, “My numbers suck,” and then adding, “You don’t want to shatter your thumb; that’s not great.”

Jimmy then rendered a brutal self-appraisal:

(Stats are) not what it’s about. I just want to win games. If I have one catch for two yards and we win, I don’t care. But obviously it’s not great when you’re not helping us win, and that’s what I see.

If, and there are several big ifs, we have a healthy Graham and a rejuvenated Rodgers, under the guidance of a new head coach and staff, and with a new and modern offensive scheme in place, I can still envision the Jimmy Graham investment paying off.

Picture this: it’s the final and meaningless game of the year; one of the greatest tight ends in history is rehabbing a shattered thumb; quarterback DeShone Kizer is having a 132 yard, 44.0 passer rating effort, and yet Jimmy is out there taking 70% of the snaps. I’m won over.

This guy has been a superstar. He’s a team player, a professional, works hard, and he’s got a lot of pride. I think the Packers’ all-time annual yardage record by a tight end is held by Paul Coffman, at 814 yards in 1983. That’s an attainable goal for Jimmy in 2019.

Much depends, however, on how much confidence the coaches and QB have in Graham. He was targeted 89 times last season. In the nine games prior to the thumb injury, Rodgers targeted him only 55 times and Jimmy had only 33 catches.

Why bother paying a guy $30 mil if you’re not going to feed him the ball? From 2011 through 2014, Drew Brees threw Jimmy’s way an average of 138 times (8.6 per game), and Jimmy caught an average of 89 passes per season (5.6 per game). Use him or release him.

Final thought. Lots of fans are thinking the Pack should draft a tight end in one of the early rounds. No way. With Graham on the roster, and Kendricks, Lewis, and Tonyan as adequate backups, there’s no hole to fill there. There are plenty of holes to elsewhere, however, so use those precious choices where more pressing needs exist.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Evan February 18, 2019

    Jimmy wasn’t acquired in a trade. Kendrick’s and Lewis are FAs. Drafting jimmys replacement should be a priority

    1. Andrew Lloyd Peth February 19, 2019

      Yeah, I didn’t understand those observations by Rob, either.

      I would say this: I’d rather draft a TE in the 2nd round instead of the 1st. I most want edge rusher and right guard.

  2. Andrew Lloyd Peth February 19, 2019

    I too expect Graham to bounce back.

    It was a terrible decision to blow cap space on a declining vet during a rebuild–epically terrible–but now that he’s here, use him to move the chains.

    My concern is how Graham struggled to separate. I wonder if he could do what so many 30-something players have done, dropping 10 pounds for one last burst of athleticism.

    That would help.

  3. PF4L February 19, 2019

    If you don’t get the line right, it won’t matter.

    Pass the kool-aid, these pretzels are making me thirsty.

  4. Howard February 19, 2019

    Yes we can all agree Graham is overpaid. I’m not sure that is a good reason to overpay him another 5.3 million dollar bonus in the middle of March.

    Graham to me has lost his explosiveness due to the Patellar tendon rupture. Most if not all football players never return from that injury let alone return to form. Remember last year Graham set out several Wednesday practices due to his knee. Just read up on Patellar tendon ruptures.

    My guess is the Packers see who they can sign during the few days of free agency courting prior to the start of the free agent signing period. Graham’s 5.3 million dollar bonus is not due until one day after the free agent signings start. If the Packers can sign a solid tight end for close to or below the money cutting Graham saves I think they move on from Graham.

    Remember Graham was rated last year by PFF as the #48 tight end in the league and has another year of wear and tear on his knee. That is four spots below Kendricks who is #44.

    1. PF4L February 19, 2019

      Ya know, we get this shit from you time after time after time……knock it off Howard. I think that’s quite enough from you.

      You come in here all the time, gettin all logical and shit.

    2. Cheese February 19, 2019

      #48 rated TE in the league, below Kendricks. That means Graham isn’t even in the top 32 at his position and is rated lower than half of the 2nd string TE’s in the NFL, yet he gets paid more per year than any other TE. That’s ridiculous.

      Let’s repeat that again in case it didn’t sink in, the highest paid tight end in the NFL is ranked #48 at his position. Good thing they got rid of that over the hill bum Jordy Nelson. Leading the league in touchdown catches is for losers.

  5. Robster February 19, 2019

    Brain fart referring to a trade. I didn’t know about the patellar tendon problem, though I did observe the loss of explosiveness. Huge TEs can compensate for loss of quickness better than wide receivers. I also might have added that Gutekunst will be inclined to stay with his guy, rather than admit he flopped on his first major deal. I know Ian Rapparort reported the team was keeping Jimmy, and couldn’t remember if the team web site confirmed that or not, so maybe that decision is not final.

    1. Howard February 19, 2019

      Rob, I think there was a couple of reports the Packers were going to cut Graham, and then a day or so later Ian reported the Packers would keep Graham. Sounds like all the head honchos are not on the same page.

      I’m going to steal your triumvirate phrase again. What makes us believe Gute made the call on Graham?

      Gute, Ball, and MM were the triumvirate going to the emperor, Murphy. With MM throwing his weight around last off season, and rightfully being concerned he could be phased out. I could see MM demanding a top dollar TE, even though he never uses them, MM always says he needs them. I can also see Murphy agreeing with MM to make MM feel he was not going to be phased out like TT did to Sherman. I can also see Murphy telling Ball to make the deal happen. Gute may not have been onboard with the deal.

      I think Murphy gave in to MM on some of the moves last year in free agency, including trading D Randall, cutting Jordy, and originally keeping Dix.

      I could be wrong because you can never tell in a triumvirate who made the final call. It is the way the emperor wants it so the Emperor can be protected. Who would have the final say on Graham if there was a difference of opinion? I think it would be Murphy. So who put out the info Graham would be cut? I think Gute or LaFleur, but LaFleur is new so I don’t think he would put out that type of information.

  6. PF4L February 19, 2019

    The problem is money…..our play makers from some time back are just not motivated enough. we have got to start paying these players to get their head back in the game.

    I say, you give Mathews and Cobb new deals…idk, maybe around 14 mill/year for 5 years. There ya have it, pass rush revitalized and slot receiver no longer a need…..BOOM!!

    Then….we got to wake Nick Perry back up by tearing up his old deal. sign him to a new deal worth about…idk, i’m thinking 18 mill/year for 6 years. Lets get that boy hungry again. OLB no longer a need….BOOM!!

    Next in line is Tramon Williams, T Willy ain’t gonna give you much for 5 million, the boy got to get paid to produce and feed his family. I say we slot him in at about 13 mill/year. Then i guarantee he will be ranked 9th or better in the league, by PFF. So with Alexander and T Willy hoden down the sidelines, cornerback situation solved………BOOM!!

    In comes Wilkerson….that beast ain’t givin you nothin for 4.5 million!! That boy done got paid 22 million in 2016, and 15 million in 2017. At 4,5 million, he ain’t givin you shit brother. You’d be lucky to get a sack for that pittance. So here’s what a smart person (PF4L) would do….4 years, 18 mill/year. This man along with Lowery and Clark, will destroy Off. lines. Def. line situation solved……BEAST MODE…..BOOM!!

    Next….i bring in Earl Thomas. the boy is hungry, and i’ll feed him….14 mill/year for 3 years. safety position now a strength…..BOOM!!

    If i’m allowed to run the draft and Free Agency, i address receivers and the O line, after that it’s BPA…..BAM!!

    By now your all asking yourself the same question…”how can we afford all that PF?

    That’s where my genius comes into play people. I trade Rodgers for picks and O line depth, get rid of his high salary. Then i sign Colin Kaepernick for 4 million a year (he has enough cash). But he wants to play to show the World!…….BOOM!!

    Then, when the smoke clears, what do you have this time next year? A team that went 19-0 in 2019 and won the Super Bowl.

    You’re Welcome.


  7. Kato February 19, 2019

    Seems legit. Try and lure Randy Moss out of retirement and give him more $$$ than NFL network. First bears game 348-3

    1. PF4L February 19, 2019

      SMH….don’t talk so foolish, we’re trying to have serious discussion my man.

  8. tom blast February 23, 2019

    we didnt “trade” for Graham

  9. R.Duke February 24, 2019

    Rated by who, the geek squad skimming game film with Statistics 101 and a smart phone, or the coaching staff? If Le Fleur thought he was finished he would not be retained. Rodgers will have to be re-programmed from the McCarthy three ring circus. Graham was open on the short hooks and outs that would have been first downs numerous times but Aroj was thinking it was 2011. Move the chains is the 2019 mantra. Sorry Rob, but with the three TEs in this draft I would target one of them high. Two threats are better than One and I have no confidence in Kendricks nor Tonyan to be difference makers.

    Target Flowers and ZaDarious Smith in free agency and the front seven is improved.