Jimmy Graham chooses to join the Packers over a reunion with the Saints

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Graham was Russell Wilson’s go-to target in the red zone last season. Now he’ll be catching balls from Aaron Rodgers after reportedly agreeing to a three-year deal with the Green Bay Packers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

There was a chance the Seahawks would tag Graham to keep him in the fold for 2018, but they opted to let him hit the market. The price tag for Graham under the franchise tag wasn’t cheap — it would have cost Seattle upwards of $15 million for 2018, according to CBS Sports’ Joel Corry.

The tag for tight ends will run teams around $10 million this year, but Graham was already making that. Under the franchise-tag rules, Graham would then have to be paid 120 percent of his salary last season. Because his prorated signing bonus from the Saints in 2014 would have been lumped in for the calculation, it added up to that hefty price. That’s why they let him walk. Now he’ll see what he can do in Green Bay.

Why did the Packers sign Graham?

Graham finished the 2017 season with the second-most receptions from Wilson, racking up 520 yards on 57 targets. Graham’s true value to the Seahawks last year was seen in the team-best 10 touchdowns he hauled in. The 2017 season was the first time since he was traded to the Seahawks in 2015 that he’s been healthy enough to play in all 16 games. But it’s that production the Packers are banking on with the signing.

The Packers have long been on the hunt for a tight end to add a new dynamic to the team’s offense. That’s what Green Bay hoped it would get a year ago when it added Martellus Bennett on a three-year deal. But the tight end played just seven games before he was released due to concerns about a shoulder injury the Packers say he didn’t disclose.

What does this mean for Graham?

Graham was the highest-paid tight end in the league, and that likely won’t change this season. He would have made more money if Seattle had tagged him, but his future would have been a big ol’ question mark beyond this season. Now he’s got some job security past this year with the Packers.

The exact framework of the deal hasn’t been released yet, but there was competition for Graham and he presumably got more than the $8 million per average the Chicago Bears plan to give Trey Burton.

Graham is 6’7 and 265 pounds, which makes him virtually impossible for most defenders to effectively cover, especially in the close quarters of a red zone situation. As long as he stays healthy, he should be a weapon for the Packers in the end zone this season.

What does this mean for the Seahawks?

They’ve got some big questions at the tight end position.

Luke Willson is a free agent. The Seahawks have two younger tight ends on the roster, Nick Vannett and Tyrone Swoopes. Vannett was a third-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016. Swoopes was a quarterback at Texas who went undrafted in 2017 and converted to tight end. Vannett had 15 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown last season. Swoopes started on the practice squad and landed on the active roster in late December, but didn’t play.

But that $15-plus million a year it would have cost to keep him was impossible for the Seahawks to justify with their limited cap space and sweeping changes on defense. Now Graham will try to make a difference for Green Bay.