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TE Jimmy Graham to sign with Packers, who also release Jordy Nelson  1 Week ago

Source:   USA Today  

GREEN BAY - For the second time in as many years, the Green Bay Packers are signing arguably the best tight end on the free-agent market. Only this time, they’ll be hoping it turns out better than the last.

The Packers reached a verbal agreement with tight end Jimmy Graham on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the deal, and plan to sign him when free agency opens Wednesday afternoon. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.

News of the deal was first reported by ESPN, and the network indicated Graham will receive a three-year deal.

The Packers also released veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson, saving the team more than $10 million in cap space.

By signing Graham, 31, new general manager Brian Gutekunst matched word with action after an offseason in which he vowed to be more aggressive in the player acquisition phase. The Packers have reportedly expressed interest in several top-dollar free agents — cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson — but to this point had either been priced out of the competition or slow played the market.

This marks the second consecutive offseason the Packers have made a splash at the tight end position. A year ago, former general manager Ted Thompson signed Martellus Bennett to a three-year deal worth $21 million. The decision backfired in more ways than one, with Bennett underachieving on the field (24 receptions, 244 yards, zero touchdowns) and walking with his entire signing bonus after the Packers tried to recoup the prorated portion ($4.2 million) through an arbitrator.

But in Graham the Packers are signing one of the best receiving tight ends in the modern era, a player whose basketball background helped revolutionize the position alongside the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas. Graham has had at least 850 receiving yards five times in the last seven years and has reached double-digit touchdowns four times in his career, peaking with 16 receiving touchdowns in 2013 as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Graham joins the Packers after three uneven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, who acquired him via trade March 10, 2015. There were times when Graham seemed like an odd fit for the power-running, quarterback-scrambling offense of former coordinator Darrell Bevell. At other times Graham was his typical jaw-dropping self, especially in the red zone where his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame is nearly impossible for any defender to cover. 

Meanwhile, Nelson in 2017 endured the worst season of his career since becoming a significant contributor in 2010. Nelson had 53 catches for 482 yards (9.1) and just six TDs after leading the NFL with 14 TD catches in 2016, when he also had 97 receptions for 1,257 yards (13.0).

Nelson, who turns 33 in May, failed to top 100 yards in any game and had three or fewer catches eight times. Nelson struggled to gain separation from cornerbacks and finished 153rd in yards after the catch with 2.5 per reception.

"We cannot thank Jordy enough for all that he has given the Green Bay Packers and our community for the past 10 years," Gutekunst said in a statement. "He has been an exemplary professional and teammate and greatly contributed to our success. Jordy will always be a member of the Packers family and we look forward to his eventual induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. We wish Jordy, his wife Emily, and the rest of their family all the best."


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