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Jimmy Graham ‘really unlikely’ to return to Seattle in free agency, per report

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The 49ers could use a big red zone threat, and it just so happens there is an intriguing option coming out of Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks face a busy offseason following their first missed playoffs since 2011. Injuries shook up the roster this season, and free agency and generally unhappy players could lead to a lot of turnover in the near future.

One player expected to depart is tight end Jimmy Graham. The Seahawks acquired Graham in 2015, one season after he signed a four-year $40 million extension with the New Orleans Saints. Graham played the last season of that deal this year, earning $7.9 million in base salary, along with $2 million in roster bonus money.

Seahawks reporter Bob Condotta recently ran through the team’s pending free agents, and had an interesting rundown of Graham. He said it is considered “really unlikely” Graham returns to Seattle, but he had more than just that to say.

He had 10 touchdown receptions this season in what was his third year in Seattle. And he is maybe Russell Wilson’s best friend on the team — Wilson entertainingly referred to Graham on Monday as being “like a unicorn. There are only so many of them in the world.’’ But Graham has been an uneven fit in Seattle and at age 31 is undoubtedly excited to enter free agency for the first time in his NFL career. Generally considered really unlikely to be back in Seattle.

Graham suffered a torn patellar tendon in his first year in Seattle, but played a full 16 games each of the next two years. His target totals were down in Seattle, but this past season he was a big-time red zone threat, finishing with 10 touchdowns on the season. Earlier this year, I spoke with Field Gulls editor Kenneth Arthur about Graham and his usage this year.

I would not say that his role in the offense has changed that much outside of how they utilize him in the red zone. The idea that Graham was being “mis-used” or “not as good as he was in New Orleans” was kinda just hogwash. It was a lower volume offense, yes, (not any more surprisingly as the Saints move to the run game and Russell Wilson sits among the league leaders in pass attempts) but Graham on a rate basis had been just as advertised. Except for when it comes to scoring and now it seems like Seattle has finally figured out how to do that better. Graham’s 20 red zone targets is the most in the NFL and that’s why he’s tied for second in receiving touchdowns with seven. So for most of the game, you’re getting the same Jimmy Graham, and then in the red zone you have to expect that Wilson will toss him at least one goal-to-go touchdown attempt.

Graham turned 31 this season, and while age is an issue, he still stands 6’7, 265 pounds. He is probably not going to get another four-year, $40 million contract, but I have to think there are a few teams that will be willing to invest in that kind of red zone threat.

The 49ers tight end situation includes George Kittle and Garrett Celek, both of whom emerged as solid weapons for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. That being said, the 49ers lacked consistency in the red zone. If Pierre Garçon had not hurt his neck, maybe we would be looking at this differently. But that being said, does it make sense to kick the tires on Graham as a big-bodied red zone threat?

I like the idea in theory. He would be an excellent rotational option that like a pass rush specialist, is used primarily when the team gets deep into opposing territory. One question would be whether or not he would want more of a full-time role he might not get with the 49ers. Just because the 49ers have money and a need does not mean he would want to fill that particular role. We’ll find out more when free agency starts, but if there is mutual interest, it certainly makes some sense.