Jimmy Graham

Contract Restructures: Graham, Nassib, Ryan

With the start of Week 1 quickly approaching, NFL front offices are still finding ways to open some cap space. A handful of players restructured their contracts today, and we’ve compiled some of the notable transactions below:

  • TE Jimmy Graham, Bears: Converted $5.825MM of salary into signing bonus, opening $4.66MM in cap space while also adding four voidable years to contract (via ESPN’s Field Yates on Twitter). The veteran inked a two-year, $16MM deal with the Bears prior to last season, and he finished his first season in Chicago with 50 receptions for 456 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • DE Carl Nassib, Raiders: Converted $2.51MM of salary into a signing bonus, opening $2.008MM in cap space (via ESPN’s Field Yates on Twitter). Nassib inked a three-year, $25MM deal (including $16.75MM guaranteed) with the Raiders last offseason. The 28-year-old got into 14 games (five starts) during his first season in Las Vegas, finishing with 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and nine QB hits.
  • DB Logan Ryan, Giants: Converted “most of the base salary” into signing bonus (per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport on Twitter). The veteran was set to earn around $5.5MM this upcoming season. After inking a one-year deal with the Giants last offseason, Ryan signed a three-year, $31MM extension (with $20MM guaranteed) in December. After switching from cornerback to safety, Ryan finished his first season in New York with 94 tackles, three forced fumbles, nine passes defended, and one interception.
  • OT Duane Brown, Seahawks: Converted $7MM of base salary into signing bonus, saving the team $3.5MM in cap space. After skipping training camp in pursuit of an extension, we learned earlier today that the veteran lineman got an extra year tacked onto his contract. Indeed, as veteran reporter John Clayton points out, Brown got an extra year “with an injury protection benefit for 2022.”

Jimmy Graham Considered Retirement; Bears Wanted TE To Return

Following the Bears’ one-sided playoff loss to the Saints, Jimmy Graham debated stepping away from football after 11 NFL seasons. Bears decision-makers intervened to convince him to stay.

The veteran tight end briefly considered retirement, but Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace persuaded him to return, Adam Jahns of The Athletic tweets. Although Graham did not sound like he needed too much convincing to come back, the Bears still have the 34-year-old target in their plans.

Given a two-year deal worth $16MM (to the surprise of many) in March 2020, Graham helped a Bears team that had swung and missed on a few tight ends during the Pace regime. He caught 50 passes for 476 yards and eight touchdowns — his most TDs since 2017. The 6-foot-7 tight end added a score in the Bears’ playoff loss. While Graham is past his prime, he could well help Andy Dalton and Justin Fields as an auxiliary weapon.

The five-time Pro Bowler is due a $6.9MM base salary, and his cap number spikes to $10MM in 2021. Only Zach Ertz, whom the Eagles are expected to jettison, has a higher 2021 cap number ($12.7MM) among tight ends. The Bears also used a second-round pick on Cole Kmet last year. Nevertheless, Graham appears set to stay on as one of Allen Robinson‘s aerial sidekicks this coming season.

The former Saints, Seahawks and Packers tight end has totaled 82 career touchdown catches — fourth in NFL history among tight ends. Only Antonio Gates (116), Tony Gonzalez (111) and Rob Gronkowski (86) have more.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Only NFL Players With No-Trade Clauses

It’s fairly common for disgruntled NFL players to give their teams a short list of acceptable trade destinations. However, it’s still quite rare for players to hold contractual veto power over a trade. Currently, there are only nine NFL players with a no-trade clause in their deals, as ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets

▪️ Drew Brees, QB (Saints)
▪️ Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL (Chiefs)
▪️ Jimmy Garoppolo, QB (49ers)
▪️ Jimmy Graham, TE (Bears)
▪️ DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Cardinals)
▪️ Patrick Mahomes, QB (Chiefs)
▪️ Deshaun Watson, QB (Texans)
▪️ J.J. Watt, DL (Cardinals)
▪️ Russell Wilson, QB (Seahawks)

The Chiefs, who represent 25% of the list, furnished LDT with a NTC as a part of his contract restructure. Historically, there haven’t been many offensive lineman to secure the clause. However, Duvernay-Tardif had a bit of leverage in 2020 when the Chiefs needed extra cap room. He was scheduled to count for nearly $9MM, $6.45MM of which was comprised of base salary. Instead, he converted some of that money into a signing bonus over the remaining three years and came away with a perk typically reserved for quarterbacks.

Watson and Wilson are among the QBs who can block trades. They’re both putting it to use, albeit in different ways. Watson wants out — even after finally meeting with new head coach David Culley – and he’s steering himself towards a small group of teams, including the Dolphins and Panthers. Wilson, meanwhile, says that he doesn’t want to get traded and doesn’t expect to get traded. But, if the Seahawks do shop him, he wouldn’t mind joining up with the Bears, Cowboys, Saints or Raiders. In beating out several other teams for Watt, the Cardinals included the clause in the star defender’s contract.

Bears Notes: Desai, Robinson, Massie, Skrine

Earlier this week, Sean Desai met with the media for the first time since being promoted to the role of defensive coordinator. While the 37-year-old will take over a defense that has ranked as a top-10 DVOA unit in each of the past three seasons, they’ve also seen some regression since peaking in 2018. However, Desai doesn’t believe the defensive needs a significant overhaul.

“I’m not a big car guy, so my analogies may not be great, but this is like a tune up,” Desai said (via the team’s website). “We’re going to refine some things and we’re going to make sure our players are playing to their strengths on a consistent basis and they’re going to buy into the system and the whys and the hows of why we’re doing certain things. But we’ve got a good defense. We’ve got really good players here.”

“There was some regression, and we’re going to overcome that,” Desai added. “But we’re going to do it in a positive way and we’re going to do it where the players are going to be able to shine through that defense. So I think we’ll build some depth and we’ll continue with our tough, physical mindset of play and do that over a 16- to 20-week season.”

Some more notes out of Chicago…

  • CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora writes that the Bears are “prepared” to tag wideout Allen Robinson with the hope of eventually signing him to a long-term deal. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that it will be difficult to fit a franchised Robinson into a reduced 2021 cap, but the writer also admits that replacing Robinson would be a more daunting task.
  • Speaking of the cap, Biggs provided some cost-cutting options for the Bears. The team could move on from right tackle Bobby Massie, although that would open a spot on the offensive line. Cornerback Buster Skrine could also lose his roster spot, especially since he has a $500K roster bonus due in March. Finally, Biggs also whether the front office will be receptive to paying tight end Jimmy Graham $7MM this season.
  • As for restructured contracts, Biggs points to pass rusher Khalil Mack and safety Eddie Jackson, and he notes that the team could also extend cornerback Kyle Fuller. Alternatively, the team could look to retain free agents like Cairo Santos and Cordarrelle Patterson on low-money pacts.
  • Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic passed along a few Bears players who have increased their 2021 salaries via proven performance escalators (Twitter links): defensive end Bilal Nichols (from $920K to $2.183MM) and guard James Daniels ($1.437MM to $2.183MM),. Their new salaries are contingent on the final 2021 cap number.

Bears To Sign Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham has found a new home, and he’s staying in the NFC North. The tight end is signing a two-year deal with the Bears, a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

It’s a $16MM pact for Graham, with $9MM of that guaranteed. ESPN’s Field Yates has more details and notes that the deal includes some incentives and a rare no-trade clause (Twitter link).

The Packers cut Graham last week to avoid paying him the final year of the three-year, $30MM deal he signed with Green Bay in 2018. Graham established himself as one of the best offensive weapons in the game during his time with the Saints, having four straight seasons with at least 889 yards from 2011-14. A third-round pick back in 2010, Graham has made five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams.

He was traded to the Seahawks for a first-round pick in 2015, and his effectiveness started to dip after that. He had ten touchdowns in 2017 and was still a great redzone threat, but had only 520 yards. He got the big deal from the Packers but was a disappointment, only racking up 447 yards last season.

He’s been a warrior and has managed to play in all 16 games in four straight seasons, but he’s dealt with a seemingly never-ending string of minor injuries that have reduced his effectiveness physically. Now 33, it’s anyone’s guess as to what he’ll look like in 2020. Still, he should be an upgrade for the Bears, who haven’t had anything consistent at the position in years despite multiple attempts to address it. They gave a big contract to Trey Burton last offseason, and while they hope to still see a return on that investment, the deal for Graham suggests that Chicago doesn’t have a ton of confidence in Burton at this point.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers To Cut Jimmy Graham

The Packers will release Jimmy Graham on Thursday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). The release will be formally processed on Thursday, sending the tight end into free agency immediately.

This has been the expected move for some time. Despite Graham’s many career accomplishments, the Packers had little reason to keep him and his $11.6MM cap hit. By dropping Graham, the Packers will save $6MM against $3.6MM in dead money.

Graham was one of the league’s most dominant tight ends for a long stretch. In his first eight seasons – spent with the Saints and Seahawks – Graham earned five Pro Bowl nominations. In 2013, one of his seasons ever, Graham was also named a First-Team All-Pro after notching 86 catches for 1,215 yards and a league-leading 16 touchdowns.

After that, he inked a three-year, $30MM deal with the Packers, but he couldn’t match his previous production. In 2018, he finished out with a 5/636/2 line. Last year, he had just 38 catches for 447 yards and three TDs. It was his lowest output since his rookie season back in 2010, and it was a reminder that Father Time catches up with everyone – even the game’s greats.

While Graham won’t have an issue finding another gig, he’ll be joining a relatively deep free agent class that’s led by Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry. It’s worth noting that fellow veteran Greg Olsen got $5.5MM guaranteed from the Seahawks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers Unlikely To Keep Jimmy Graham

Tight end Jimmy Graham plans to continue playing, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back with the Packers in 2020. The Packers plan to move on from him and the final part of his three-year, $30MM deal, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). 

[RELATED: Jared Veldheer To Continue Playing]

As of this writing, Graham is the league’s highest-paid tight end on a per-year basis. And, as of this writing, he’s set to count for an $11.6MM cap figure. The Packers, in all likelihood, will terminate the deal in order to save $8MM against $3.6MM in dead money. A trade may also be possible, though Graham is well past his best years.

Across ten campaigns with the Saints, Seahawks, and Packers, Graham went to the Pro Bowl five times. In 2013, he was also a First-Team All-Pro as he led the league with 16 touchdown catches.

Last year, Graham stayed healthy – it was his fourth-straight season with 16 games played – but he wasn’t able to play up to his contract. After he registered just 38 catches for 447 yards and three scores, the Packers are ready to move on.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers’ Jimmy Graham Expected To Continue Playing

It sounds like Jimmy Graham will suit up in 2020. On Friday, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said it’s his understanding that the tight end wants to play next year (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky). 

Graham is under contract with the Packers in 2020 at a $11.6MM cap figure, the final season of his three-year deal. In theory, the Packers could save $8MM by releasing the veteran, with $3.6MM in dead money.

The 33-year-old played in all 16 games in 2019 – marking his fourth straight season with perfect attendance in the regular season – plus the Packers two-game postseason. Graham no longer features as a dominant red zone threat, but he was still productive last year with 38 grabs for 447 yards and three touchdowns. In the Packers’ pair of playoff contests, he caught seven passes for 108 yards, including a (controversial) game-sealing first down against his old friends in Seattle.

In ten seasons with the Saints, Seahawks, and Packers, Graham has earned five Pro Bowl trips, plus a First-Team All-Pro nod in 2013, when he tallied a league-leading 16 touchdown receptions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Howard, Vikings, Packers

Although Jordan Howard matched his career high with nine rushing touchdowns last season, his overall and per-carry yardage numbers continued to decline. The Bears‘ starting running back failed to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time and averaged 3.7 per tote, as Tarik Cohen gained a bigger foothold in Matt Nagy‘s offense. Howard did not make progress as a receiving back, either, in his third year. The Bears are indeed shopping Howard at the Combine, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. One season remains on the former fifth-round pick’s rookie contract.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • Also being dangled for a trade, per JLC: Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes. One of three first-round picks in Minnesota’s corner corps, Waynes has been a two-year starter. But he is going into his fifth-year option season, which will cost the Vikings just more than $9MM. With Kirk Cousins‘ fully guaranteed contract on their books, along with several recently extended homegrown talents, the Vikings are up against the cap, holding barely $7MM.
  • One place the Vikings may need funding for is their offensive line. Guard starter Nick Easton missed all of last season, hurting an already embattled unit, and is slated for unrestricted free agency. Rick Spielman said (via the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Andrew Krammer) Easton should be medically cleared to resume his career soon. Easton underwent surgery to address a herniated disk in his neck. Easton also fractured his ankle in December 2017, so he may have to settle for a one-year deal somewhere.
  • Brian Gutekunst confirmed what we heard recently: Jimmy Graham will have a second chance to make an impact with the Packers. A possible cap casualty, Graham is in line to come back, per Gutekunst (via ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky). When asked Wednesday about Graham, Matt LaFleur was not yet sure the 32-year-old is the type of tight end that can create matchup problems at this point in his career, adding the caveat of not being in Green Bay last year to observe the physical issues with which Graham dealt.
  • Gutekunst was non-committal about Nick Perry‘s future with the team. Indicating the veteran outside linebacker has been productive when on the field, the second-year Packers GM said a decision has not been made on this front. “Nick’s struggled through some injuries,” Gutekunst said. “It’s been unfortunate. When he’s been out there, he’s been a good player for us. We’ll make those decisions as they come.” It would not be financially advantageous for the Packers to cut Perry. The cap savings would barely exceed $3MM, while the dead-money figure would surpass $11MM. Three years remain on the contract Perry signed in 2017. Perry played in nine games last season and 12 in 2017. He registered just 1.5 sacks last season.

Packers To Bring Back TE Jimmy Graham In 2019

The Packers are expecting to have tight end Jimmy Graham for at least another season, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). 

Rapoport writes that Graham is “due a $5M roster bonus on 3/15, and the expectation now is they pay it and he returns.” Green Bay signed Graham to a three-year $30MM deal back in March, but his first season with Aaron Rodgers was a bit of a disappointment. Graham ended up playing in all 16 games, but he was hampered by a broken thumb the last couple months of the season.

Graham ended up catching 55 passes for 636 yards and two touchdowns. He came to Green Bay after spending three years in Seattle, and hasn’t quite been able to replicate his early career success in New Orleans in either stop. There was speculation the Packers might move on this offseason, but paying him the $5MM roster bonus indicates they still believe he can produce at a high level.

Recently fired coach Mike McCarthy caught a lot of flack for not getting Graham more involved, and it’s possible he could see a late career resurgence under new coach Matt LaFleur. The two touchdowns were the lowest of any healthy season of his career, and the 55 catches the lowest since his rookie season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.