Wednesday, 11 March 2015 17:13

Jim Miller: Saints traded Jimmy Graham out of need, for Brees' protection

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graham-panthersby Jim W. Miller

I don’t know many people who laugh at funerals, but pardon me while I chuckle at the reaction from Who Dat Nation over the Saints’ trade of TE Jimmy Graham to Seattle on Tuesday. No, change that “TE” identification to “Icon” with a capital “I” because if you polled Saints’ fans before about 3 p.m. Tuesday, Graham would have been listed at No. 2 current “Saint of Saints” behind QB and Icon Drew Brees.


I do not want this to sound like I wanted the team to jettison a Pro Bowler who in his first few years has revolutionized his position. No, I am chuckling because the reaction in the bars of Bucktown, the Mardi Gras dens of Destrehan and the churches of Central City is similar to the uproar that an earlier generation of Saints executives faced when we dumped another warm and fuzzy pet of Who Dat Nation, dimpled K Morten Andersen. TV programs Tuesday night showed little kids crying and some black-and-gold faithful shaking their heads. All that was missing was my mother-in-law's sister who apologized to her friends with the explanation: "Well, he married into the family!"

Of course, there are fans who understand, kind of, what the Saints’ braintrust was thinking when it sent Graham and a fourth-round draft choice to the Seahawks for C Max Unger and their first-round draft pick, which is No. 31 in next month’s NFL draft. I know what the Seattle braintrust might have been thinking: Russell Wilson would have loved to have had Jimmy Graham standing in the end zone when he threw that final pass in the Super Bowl! The trade was a win-win for both teams, although I think next time Seattle still gives the ball to Marshawn Lynch!

I made the rounds of TV shows on Tuesday afternoon commenting on what I characterized as a “bold” move by the Saints, but one question hit the nail on the head. Fletcher Mackel of WDSU-TV asked me if NFL executives ever feel an emotional attachment to players that makes the decision to trade or terminate difficult. The question and my response, which I don’t think were aired, was that sentiment does not exist in an NFL front office. There are players you grow fond of, but the bottom line is that you do what is best for your team. There are 32 sets of executives who are trying to win one gold ring each year, and the ones who let sentiment get in the way won’t be in the position very long.

NFL executives see each player as value, some higher than others, but all have value. If the case of Jimmy Graham, the Saints had a player of enormous value, but he played a position that was far less critical than other positions of need. Graham was a luxury the team could not afford. Regular readers of this space know I have carped for the past two years about the inefficiency of the Saints’ offensive line play. Drew Brees was hounded too many times by opposing pass rushers that reduced a once-vaunted passing game to an exercise of “run for your life.”

If your quarterback doesn’t have time for his receivers to get into their patterns, it doesn’t matter if the guys running downfield are named Graham, Jerry Rice or Joe the Ragman. A quarterback never completed a pass from a posterior position. Unger, a two-time Pro Bowler, will provide Brees with a new bodyguard and probably another crucial second or two to find the open receiver. Look for a revival in the Saints' passing attack in 2015.

The lagniappe in the deal was the Seahawks’ first-round pick, which gives the Saints other options. Added to the No. 13 pick, the Saints have greater flexibility to move up or down to get a player or two who will fill other areas of need. Edge pass rusher or cornerback are the greatest needs, but I wouldn’t object to another young offensive lineman or even an inside linebacker. The Saints now have a better opportunity to fill those holes.

My message to Who Dat Nation, which did make the WDSU-TV broadcast was “take a deep breath. You got a Pro Bowl player at a position of need and a No. 1 draft pick to find another.” It was a win-win for both teams. You will learn to love it!

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