Home Miami jersey How Jimmy Graham made history with Gronk, wishes he would never leave the Saints – New Orleans Saints blog

How Jimmy Graham made history with Gronk, wishes he would never leave the Saints – New Orleans Saints blog

0


Now fellow in the field, Jimmy Graham sees what his teammate Rob Gronkowski is always do with quarterback Tom Brady.

Graham can’t help but wonder “what could have been and what should have been” had he been with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints for more than five years. Instead, he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.

“I don’t think anyone really benefited from the trade,” said Graham, who is now with the Chicago Bears, his fourth team in the NFL, in his 12th season. “You have a guy like Gronk who’s been with his quarterback his entire career in the same offense, the same ploy. So for me, it’s always one of those things where thinking about what could have been or should have been with Drew is sort of the most disappointing.

“Maybe some (Saints’ 2017-20 playoff losses) go the other way.”

With the Saints scheduled to play the New England Patriots on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), Graham recently spoke to ESPN about how he and Gronk helped revolutionize the tight final position 10 years ago when they both beat the 31-year-old. single season reception record.

To be precise, Graham broke the tight end record first, ending the Saints’ Week 17 win over the Carolina Panthers with 1,310 yards. Then Gronkowski came off the bench minutes later at the end of the Patriots’ resounding victory over the Buffalo Bills to move forward with 1,327.

Saints coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. both laughed at the memory of that game, with people chirping in their helmets to “Get Jimmy Another Take.”

“Was I campaigning? Are you kidding me? Of course I was, ”Graham recalls. “I remember they announced over the intercom that I had just broken the all-time (late) distance record by Kellen Winslow Sr. But I remembered the Patriots game started later than the our. … Then I hear they put Gronk, and it breaks my heart.

Gronkowski’s record lasted seven years before the Kansas City Chiefs and Travis Kelce and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers began to push it through.

While Graham and Gronkowski were a dynamic duo in a way, it was also a rivalry that Graham took very personally.

“I never told anyone that,” said Graham, who was drafted 95th overall in 2010 – 53 picks after Gronkowski. “My first four years in the league, I actually had Gronk’s jersey hanging in my room. I didn’t have a TV hanging in my bedroom, I had Gronk’s swimsuit hanging in my bedroom. It was literally the only object I had hung in my house. So every morning I had to wake up and I knew I had to get to work.

“I would say everyone needs some sort of rivalry at some point, at least mentally to push themselves even harder. And you know Gronk has always been that to me. And that’s kind of the sad part, is that I wish I could have continued to work with this system (of saints) to see maybe what could have happened.

“Like a big giraffe”

Graham’s rise to stardom was unexpected, given the 6-foot-7, 265-pound player played basketball for four years at the University of Miami before playing football for a year. Although previous tight superstars like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates were also from basketball, Graham was a stranger enough to fall at the end of the third round of the draft.

But his potential was evident throughout his rookie year, when he backed Jeremy Shockey and finished with 31 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns.

Graham said he will never forget when the Saints gave him a 6-yard touchdown pass in the dying minutes of a critical Week 16 win at Atlanta in his rookie season.

“Sean Payton calls time-out, and we’re on the sidelines and he asks Drew, ‘What do you want to do? And Drew said, “I want to throw it at the big kid,” Graham recalls. “And I look around like, ‘Who’s the big kid? You have Shockey, (Lance) Moore, Devery (Henderson), (Robert) Meachem, (Marques) Colston, Reggie Bush. And I’m like, “Who the hell are they talking about? And all of a sudden I realize, ‘Oh shit–, it’s me.’

“So we go up there with the game in play and call a slant road over the goal line, and I grabbed that and I guess the rest is history.”

That story quickly evolved in 2011, when Payton and the New Orleans offensive coaching staff began designing new pieces and creating offsets for Graham by the week.

“In 2010 we kind of had a few little packages for him, but he was still kind of like a big giraffe running around there,” Brees said. “Still not quite the feel of the game, but just crazy athletic and could do weird stuff. And then in 2011, it was like, ‘Oh my God.’ All of a sudden you had this guy who had developed some understanding and some patience and some running ability.

“And he had like a fire and a chip on his shoulder that was like he had something to prove every day in training and games and just a state of mind like I had never seen before. . “

Graham said he’s been fortunate enough to follow in the wake of all-time greats like Gonzalez and Gates. He also said that one of Payton’s mentors, now Raiders coach Jon Gruden, was the inspiration for one of his first packages, named after Gruden’s nickname, called the ‘Chucky Package’ – where the tight end would be isolated to the back of a 3-in-1 formation.

“And then, really, some kind of science experiment started,” Graham said. “So it was really fun to be a part of that kind of creating what a tight end can or should do on the court.”

The Saints’ offensive coaches laughed a lot while watching Monday Night Football a week ago when an announcer called the coach of another team a “genius” for coming up with a creative game design for a tight end – even though the Saints had offered the game a week earlier.

This sort of thing happens all the time in the NFL, but it was a good example of how New Orleans was innovating what could be done to position every week.

Payton would take different routes that were previously designed for receivers and say, “Hey, let’s see if 80 can do that. Graham did it so often that it became a common joke among Saints players.

“Once (Graham) got mad, I remember pretty much everything that was for him,” Moore said.

“Set the scene”

Of course, Graham is also remembered for his ill-fated refereeing battle in 2014 to be declared a wide receiver in order to increase the value of his franchise tag. He lost that dispute before signing a four-year, $ 40 million contract, the richest in NFL history to a close end at the time.

A year later, Graham was traded to Seattle. But if there were tensions between the two parties, it is not obvious today. Graham, Payton and Brees all fondly recall their partnership.

The very first thing Brees and Payton mentioned when asked about Graham was how remarkably good the Saints offense was in 2011 and how they should have won the Super Bowl that year.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was wondering what we could have done together if we had the opportunity,” said Brees.

The Saints explained at the time that Graham was a valuable trade commodity that could help them find the resources they needed to improve their offensive line, defense, and salary cap. And Graham says today he understands that was the “harsh reality of the business.”

Unfortunately for him, Graham suffered a serious knee injury in his first season with the Seahawks and has never been quite the same physically.

However, he had 10 touchdown passes with Seattle in 2017 and eight with Chicago in 2020. And he ranks fourth among tight ends in NFL history with 82 touchdowns, sixth with 700 receptions and seventh with 8,350 yards. .

He’s also made his mark as a trailblazer for today’s best tight ends, including Kelce, Kittle, and Darren Waller. Graham said he was fascinated to see the way position continues to evolve with things like bubble screens designed for Kelce to break tackles in space. And he said it was “fun to see all these kids getting paid.”

“Gronk and Jimmy did so much for the tight final position,” Kittle said. “Gronk, I think he kind of kicked the door down so he could have a personality. And he really kind of set the stage for, “As long as you’re playing at a high level, you can be who you want to be.”

“Jimmy Graham did the same. I think he was a little quieter, but the games he played every Sunday, it was amazing. He wanted to go out there and get paid like a wide catcher, which I think he should have because of what he did. But they definitely set the stage for any tight ends that are yet to come.

“The tight ends keep kicking down the door.”

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner contributed to this report