Several days ago, the New Orleans Saints placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham. This means Graham can negotiate and sign an offer sheet with another team. If the Saints decline to match, that team would owe the Saints two first-round draft picks. When this news was announced, the immediate reaction across the sports world was that a general manager would be stupid to make this trade. However, is it so stupid? More specifically, should the Miami Dolphins make this a reality?
Graham entered the league in 2010 and was drafted in the third round by the Saints and in his rookie season, he started in five games playing behind Jeremy Shockey. He finished with 31 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns.
The year of 2011 was his first year as a full-time starter and he made the most of his opportunity. He had 99 receptions for a whopping 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. With those numbers, he was elected to the Pro Bowl and became the first tight end in Saints history to have more than 1,000 yards in a season. In 2012, he played in 15 games and caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2013, he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns.
When you look at these stats, you can’t help but be amazed. Graham brings an entire new element to an offense and is the ultimate chess piece on the field. No matter where he is, he can make an impact and change the game in the blink of an eye.
So, why wouldn’t a general manager want to give up two first-round picks for a guaranteed play maker? It’s because of his injury history. In 2010, he showed up on the injury report four times due to an ankle injury. He was probable in Week 1, Week 5, Week 6 and was out the first round of the playoffs. In 2011, he showed up on the injury report three times. In Week 7 and Week 8, he was probable with an ankle injury and in Week 15, he was probable with a back injury.
In 2012, he showed up on the injury report four times. In Week 7, he was out with an ankle injury. In Week 8, he was questionable with an ankle injury. In Week 16, he was probable with a wrist injury and in Week 17, he was probable with a wrist/finger injury. In 2013, he was on the injury report six times. In Weeks 8 and Week 9, he was questionable with a foot injury. In Week 10, he was questionable with an elbow/foot injury and in Week 11, he was probable with an elbow/foot injury. In Week 12, he was listed as questionable with an elbow/foot injury.
As you can see, he is banged up already after being a full-time starter only 3.5 years. His ankle has been giving him trouble ever since he entered the NFL and, soon after his back, foot, wrist and elbow started giving him problems as well.
Can Graham really be trusted to stay healthy as he gets older and plays more snaps? Is he worth the monster contract that you’d have to give him? It’s certainly a tough decision.
If the Dolphins are strongly considering drafting a play maker on offense in the first round, general manager Dennis Hickey should take a serious look at the situation. He should start by taking a long look at Graham’s injury history. If it looks like his injuries have cleared up and won’t be much of a problem moving forward, that should set the wheels in motion. They would essentially be drafting Graham with the 19th pick and getting a guaranteed stud. If the Dolphins make the playoffs this season because of Graham, no one will care much about the lost first-round pick in 2015. The Dolphins have more than enough cap room with just about $40 million to work with this offseason so money shouldn’t be an issue.
Getting Graham will open up the entire offense and make them a threat to score from anywhere on the field. However, it’s the ultimate example of risk vs. reward. If he’s healthy, it’s a huge win. If he’s injured most of the year, Hickey would likely be out of a job come January 2015. Is that a risk he’s willing to take?