Early in the offseason, it was easy to envision Jimmy Graham as a salary cap casualty. It’s not as if the veteran tight end didn’t provide value. Graham’s veteran leadership helped bring along rookie Cole Kmet, while his red zone presence aided in the Bears scoring touchdowns. But the potential to create $7 million in cap space was alluring enough for many (present company included) to think of Graham’s departure as if it were fait accompli.
Not so fast, my friend:
#Bears TE coach Clancy Barone said there was never a doubt that Jimmy Graham would be back this season. "We knew from Day 1."
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) May 12, 2021
On the one hand, I tip my cap to the Bears for having faith and conviction that Graham can still be a productive member of this team. Otherwise, Graham wouldn’t be hanging around at that salary with Chicago’s cap crunch being what it is right now. But on the other hand, that the Bears aren’t jettisoning Graham gives me pause regarding Cole Kmet’s development.
I thought Kmet took some solid steps forward as his rookie year went on, especially after a slow start. That Kmet was seeing a higher volume of snaps and targets down the stretch suggested the torch was being passed from the old guard to the new. With his size and ball skills in the red zone, it sure looked like Kmet was ready to take the baton and run with it. But maybe the Bears don’t feel similarly. That would be reason enough to retain Graham for another season — even at that salary.
And yet, I still find myself hung up on the salary. In what has been a purge of cap casualties, the Bears have let go starters Kyle Fuller and Charles Leno Jr. — both of whom played more than 90 percent of the snaps at their respective positions. Meanwhile, Graham was in on just 59 percent of the offense’s snaps. Moreover, he played more than 50 percent of the offensive snaps just once in the final six games. So, long story short, the Bears have made cap-related cuts to bounce two starters who saw heavy work loads while keeping a part-time tight end whose release could have created space.
I am unsure as to why nothing is really adding up here. But it somehow makes sense for the Bears. And, in the end, with their decision being what it is, it seems as if Graham is here for another year.