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Jimmy Graham Is Headed to Green Bay—but Jordy Nelson Is Headed Out

Aaron Rodgers finally has the red zone target of his dreams to work with

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Deal

Jimmy Graham has agreed to a three-year deal with the Packers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. No details have been reported yet on the compensation. The deal can’t become official until after free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Graham Are What Football Dreams Are Made Of

That feeling washing over you is love.

For years, the Packers looked at free agency with scorn. Whether it was longtime GM Ted Thompson’s bedrock belief in building almost exclusively through the draft or an inability to convince veterans to move to Green Bay for wintertime, the Packers rarely spent money on outside players in the past decade. Thompson’s successor, new GM Brian Gutekunst, has finally reversed that trend. Now one of the best red zone targets in football is united with Aaron Rodgers, and we are all winners.

Graham will immediately become by far the best tight end Rodgers has ever worked with. Given Rodgers’s silly ability to elevate the play of the pass catchers around him, every team in the NFC North should shudder at the very thought of Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Graham all catching passes in Green Bay. It’s long overdue for the Packers to maximize their Super Bowl window while they have a Mount Rushmore quarterback still in his prime.

Wait, They Cut Jordy Nelson???

That feeling washing over you is hatred. The Packers are releasing Nelson to clear $10.2 million in cap space.

It’s the end of an era. The back-shoulder sideline throw from Rodgers to Nelson, which relied on the telepathic connection between quarterback and receiver that should exist only in movies featuring sci-fi or Air Bud, was the NFL’s most unguardable play for years. It was the football version of Dirk Nowitzki’s fadeaway. Sadly, Nelson’s 2017 season mirrored Nowitzki’s current one. A torn ACL cost him the 2015 season, he debated retirement throughout the 2016 season, and his diminished burst after the ACL tear combined with Rodgers’ absence sapped his play in 2017 as he recorded his fewest yards (482) since 2009.

Nelson told The Wisconsin State Journal in December he wanted to play one more season with the Packers.

“No one wants to get cut,” Nelson said. “So I think one more, and then I think at the end of that year I’ll analyze everything, evaluate how I feel, how the game is, and obviously what this organization wants to do.”

Nelson still wants to play in 2018, according to Schefter, but it won’t be with the Packers. Don’t be sad that Rodgers-to-Jordy is over. Be happy that it happened. Jordy always identified as more of a farmer than a football player anyway.

Jimmy Graham Is a Red Zone God

Graham’s dominance in New Orleans earlier this decade helped the NFL reimagine the tight end position. From 2011-14, Graham averaged 90 catches for 1,116 yards (12.4 yards per reception) and 12 touchdowns per 16 games. He and Rob Gronkowski are the only two tight ends in NFL history with 1,000-plus receiving yards and 10 or more touchdowns in multiple seasons. Graham’s abilities shifted the pass-catching paradigm so thoroughly that he filed a grievance against the Saints in 2014 arguing that he should be franchise-tagged as a wide receiver rather than a tight end.

Graham lost that case, and the Saints signed him to a four-year, $40 million deal, but disastrous salary-cap management forced the Saints to flip him to Seattle a year later. The Seahawks took Graham, who had dominated as a mismatch in the slot, and put his hand in the dirt along the line and made him block, because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Over his first two seasons in Seattle, Graham caught just eight touchdowns. The Seahawks bought a Bugatti and then only took it out of the garage when it was snowing. It took until 2017 for the Seahawks to remember that ISO Jimmy Graham is basically unstoppable.

Rodgers should not forget how good Graham is in the red zone (or anywhere else) for one single moment. Rodgers’s needlepoint passes, AI-like processing speed, and Jedi-esque instincts are the perfect combination to take advantage of all of the skills Graham brings. A tight-end-matchup nightmare to work the middle of the field is the missing piece that has eluded the Packers for Rodgers’s entire career. Together, not even the sky is the limit for Rodgers and accomplished pilot Jimmy Graham.

Fly away, Jimmy and Aaron. Fly away, and we will all watch you soar.