Man, didn’t see that one coming.
But, then again, maybe we should have.
Ever since last summer, when Jimmy Graham lost his arbitration hearing to be declared a wide receiver instead of a tight end, something seemed a little off about his demeanor — and his relationship with the Saints.
It was nothing you could put your finger on, but Graham never seemed particularly happy.
Maybe it was the hardball attitudes both sides had to take in arbitration. That day at a Metairie hotel when the Saints presented their case to the arbiter, there weren’t many smiles.
Maybe it was about Drew Brees once indicating he was ready to move on if things didn’t work out, although he’d earlier said “Pay the man!”
Maybe it was because Sean Payton didn’t like Graham defiantly dunking after a touchdown, even if it was in an exhibition.
It certainly didn’t help that the highest-paid tight end in NFL history had only one touchdown reception in his final five games and had a season-defining fumble at the goal line in the second Atlanta game that sealed the team’s playoff fate.
Despite Graham leading the team in receptions (85) and touchdowns (10) and being named to the Pro Bowl, Pro Football Focus rated him only No. 11 among the league’s tight ends.
When you begin the year rated the No. 10 overall player in the league by your peers, that’s a major disappointment, even if Graham played the final month of the season limited by a shoulder injury.
Or maybe it’s something that happened behind closed doors at 5800 Airline Highway.
Whatever, the Saints have dealt away a potential Hall of Famer who has been deemed capable of redefining his position and a fourth-round pick for a first-round pick and a two-time Pro Bowl center who was found expendable after he missed 10 games and his team still had the third-best rushing season in NFL history.
On the surface, it’s hard to find the balance in that. A team that had to cut Pierre Thomas and Curtis Lofton to get to the salary cap actually added $2.5 million to the red side of the ledger because of Max Unger’s contract.
What is certain is that General Manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton were not giving lip service when they talked about being disappointed in the locker-room leadership last season and that, with the probable exception of Brees, there wasn’t a player whose place on the roster was secure.
In Graham’s case, for all of his talent, he did not appear to take on that leadership mantle. Facing the media is not a player’s job description (Marques Colston rarely does, for example) but after losses Graham was conspicuously absent from the locker room.
But if getting rid of problems was the goal, why is Junior Galette still around? Maybe there were no takers and he’s too expensive to cut.
At any rate, the Saints move on.
If improving the middle of the offensive line to provide better protection for Brees at a spot where things often broke down last season while also reaffirming the increased commitment to the running game was the Saints’ primary objective in making the trade, then they have accomplished it.
And they do have an additional first-round pick that can be used in a variety of ways.
But lots of question marks remain.
How do you replace Graham?
How do you replace Lofton?
How do you get some oomph in the pass rush?
Most importantly, who becomes your second cornerback?
And what do you make of Keenan Lewis’ Instagram message that he either wants his contract guaranteed or he wants out? A hometown player who should have learned about leadership during his time with Pittsburgh is ready to bail?
Something about this organization has gone off the tracks.
Maybe it’s the residual effect of lost draft picks due to Bountygate.
Maybe it’s poor personnel decisions, both in the draft and free agency since then.
Maybe it’s the hubris that can develop when the leadership of an organization has been together for decade and survived a scandal that would have meant a housecleaning for most teams.
Maybe it’s just the circle of life in the NFL.
Everybody can’t be the New England Patriots.
Or the Seattle Seahawks.