It doesn’t sound like Chicago Bears tight end Jimmy Graham is too thrilled he ever left the New Orleans Saints. In a September 22 interview with Mike Triplett of ESPN, Graham expressed some regrets about what “could’ve been and what should’ve been,” and it’s clear he wishes he had gotten to play with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees longer than he did.
The Saints shipped Graham off to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015 in exchange for center Max Unger and a first-round pick. Since then, the veteran tight end has spent three years with the Seahawks, two years in Green Bay and the last two seasons in Chicago, and based on his recent comments, it’s clear he wishes he had never been traded at all.
“I don’t think anybody really benefitted from the trade,” Graham told Triplett about leaving New Orleans. “You got a guy like Gronk who’s been with his quarterback his entire career in the same offense, the same scheme. So for me it’s always one of those things where thinking about what could’ve been or what should’ve been with Drew is kind of the most disappointing. Maybe some of (the Saints’ playoff losses from 2017-2020) go the other way.”
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Graham: ‘That’s Kind of the Sad Part’
The 34-year-old TE also spoke to Triplett about observing what his friendly rival, Rob Gronkowski, has had with Tom Brady over the last 10+ years, and Graham expressed some regret at not having that same opportunity with the now-retired Brees.
“I would say anybody and everybody needs some kind of a rivalry at some point, at least mentally to push yourself even more,” Graham said. “And you know Gronk has always been that for me. And that’s kind of the sad part is I wish that I would’ve kind of been able to continue to work with that (Saints) system to see maybe what could’ve happened.”
Graham also expressed how much he enjoyed being part of a Saints head coach Sean Payton’s collaborative offense. “It was really fun to be a part of so much of that kind of creation of what a tight end can do or should be doing on the field,” the veteran TE said.
It must be a stark contrast to what he’s experiencing in Chicago this season.
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Matt Nagy’s Use of TEs Has Been Questionable at Best
Graham led the Bears in touchdown receptions last year, catching eight and establishing himself once again as a top red zone target. Things have started off slow for Chicago’s TEs this season, though. Graham had two targets in the team’s Week 1 loss to the Rams, and Bears’ tight ends were targeted just once in the team’s Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
His playing time has also declined with second-year talent Cole Kmet emerging. Graham played 22% of the Bears’ Week 1 snaps and 34% of their Week 2 snaps after playing 59% of the time in 2020. The lack of attention currently being paid to the position is something Nagy says he’s going to fix.
“Not enough targets (Week 2), and they need to be more involved,” Nagy said about his tight ends, via Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic. “I’m well aware of that. That’s my fault for that. That’s, uh, I don’t want to say never gonna happen again, but that’s not enough.”
Nagy also explained why we’re seeing less of Graham so far this season:
“Some of that is based off of what we think matchup-wise, where he plays more or less,” Nagy said, per Patrick Finley of The Chicago Sun-Times. “The other part of that, too, is he understands that we’re growing and developing Cole. He gets that. Jimmy’s been doing this thing for a long time. And he is actually prideful in knowing he’s a big-time mentor to Cole.”
Graham admitted he considered retirement this offseason, and as his contract is up at season’s end, it seems clear this will be his final year in the Windy City. It also seems clear that when he does retire, he’ll want to do it with the Saints.