A new era of Bears football begins in 2018 with Matt Nagy leading the way as the 16th head coach in franchise history. But for Nagy to succeed, he’ll need an injection of talent at various positions across the field – free agency is one such avenue for that improvement.
So let’s take a look at some of the more promising available free agents, to see if there might be a fit with the Chicago Bears.
Previous free agent targets: CB David Amerson (who has since signed with the Chiefs), WR Albert Wilson, C/G Zach Fulton, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Allen Robinson, WR Sammy Watkins, TE Trey Burton, OG Andrew Norwell.
Player, Age (in 2018), Position
Jimmy Graham, 32, tight end
Season stats: 16 games, 57 catches, 520 yards, 9.1 yards per catch, 10 touchdowns
Pro Football Focus grade: 54.1 overall, 33rd among qualifying tight ends
Graham wasn’t the same player in Seattle that he was in New Orleans, but the 2017 season featured flashes to the past. After snagging just eight touchdowns in his first two years with the Seahawks, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end caught 10 touchdown passes in 2017. Russell Wilson posted a 91.3 passer rating when throwing to Graham last year, which suggests the two were finally able to click.
Of course, it might be too little, too late as far as Graham’s time in Seattle is concerned.
Performance Before 2017
Stats: 105 games (76 starts), 499 catches, 6,280 yards, 12.6 yards per catch, 59 touchdowns.
Pro Football Focus grades: 86.4 (2016), 83 (2015), 79.6 (2014), 87.4 (2013), 84.3 (2012), 91.3 (2011), 76.5 (2010).
Graham was one of those basketball-bodies-turned-football-stars that were all the rage not all that long ago. Bears GM Ryan Pace was the New Orleans Saints’ Director of Professional Scouting in 2010 when the team drafted Graham in the third round.
Graham’s career had humble beginnings with a 31-catch, 356-yard season with five touchdowns in 2010. A year later, hi ascent to the top receiving target began with a 99-catch, 1,310-yard, 11-touchdown season that was capped with the first of his five Pro Bowl trips.
While with the Saints, Graham averaged 77 catches, 950 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns per season. He never reached those heights in Seattle, where he averaged 57 catches, 683 yards, and six touchdowns with the Seahawks. Frankly, it could be a reason the team doesn’t seem to have made him an offseason priority just yet.
In The End …
If you think about Pace’s connection with Graham that dates back to when their paths crossed in New Orleans and how Matt Nagy used Travis Kelce, it’s easy to connect the dots and envision how Graham could be a fit.
Depending on how the Bears attack the wide receiver position in free agency and the draft, a tight end who could stretch the field, operate over the deep middle, and make plays as a red zone target could be a high priority for the front office this offseason.
Not only would Graham provide a viable target for Mitch Trubisky to target, his presence could also take pressure off developing second-round pick Adam Shaheen. The Bears brought Shaheen along slowly in 2017 and should be in a spot to get more reps in the offense, but adding a player like Graham would allow Nagy to integrate Shaheen into his new offense without putting too much on his plate right away (we’d still want him to be well-utilized, of course).
The Bears made a major investment in tight ends last offseason when they signed Dion Sims as a free agent and drafted Shaheen in the second-round. All signs point to the Bears going back to the drawing board at the position. And if that turns out to be the case, teaming a pass-catcher like Graham with a developing two-way player like Shaheen could make tight end a position of strength in 2018.