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Graham is still a ‘foot’ above the rest

It’s still the off-season and the draft is a couple of weeks out so there is not yet any relevant football news to talk about, nothing except one little issue that has been making its way around Saints forums for the past several months. That is of course the issue of our all-world Tight End one Jimmy Graham and the lucrative contract that he has more than earned. I find it a little confusing, and to some small degree sad, how short some of our memories are concerning Graham’s toughness and dedication to his team and teammates. Over and over I have seen comments from fans calling him soft and saying he shouldn’t be paid his due because he was a no show in the playoffs and against the Seahawks and Patriots during the regular season. I get it to a certain degree; we are all fans and for those who don’t know that is short for ‘fanatic’, we are passionate and mercurial because we love our team more than almost anything and so our reactions are often based in emotion. That said, let us remember that up until week 6 against the Pats Jimmy Graham was not putting up numbers that were amazing for a Tight End…he really was putting up Calvin Johnson numbers and as Saints Nation’s own Andrew Juge hypothesized at the time it was going to take ‘the GDP of a small nation’ to sign Graham. Then week 6 happened and everything changed.

In week 6 Bill Belichick was so afraid of Graham’s potential impact that he resorted to his most lethal trump card…cheating. Jimmy Graham played that whole game with a second jersey on by the name of Aqib Talib, and while yes he should have taken the penalty and Andre Johnson’d him, Jimmy was flat out held that whole game so he should get somewhat of a pass for the no show. That wasn’t what changed his season though, everyone has a bad game. Late in the game Jimmy suffered what can be the single most devastating non-season-ending injury in pro sports: a tear in his Plantar Fascia. I think most of us forget that Jimmy did not miss a single game all year due to this injury, and few of us can understand just how remarkable that is.

The talking heads on ESPN can’t go 4 minutes without mentioning that Graham used to play basketball, but in this case it is the game of basketball that gives us our clearest example of how devastating this injury is. For the final two months of the NBA season a strong case could be made that the best player in the NBA was the Charlotte Bobcats’ Al Jefferson. The man was an absolute force of nature and single handedly carried the perennially awful team to the post-season with his dominant play. Jefferson possesses the incredibly rare attribute of incredible size and tremendous footwork, his play has at times been reminiscent of Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon (look him up if you aren’t familiar with basketball history). The reason I bring this up is that he suffered the same injury that Jimmy did in Game 1 of the playoffs and it turned what was a nearly unstoppable player into a shell of himself that can barely hobble his way up and down the court and cannot plant off that foot at all.

Football isn’t basketball, but post-play is similar to running routes in that it requires a player to be able to plant off either foot and ‘stick’ the route in order to create separation. The Plantar tear that Graham suffered took away a lot of his explosion that makes him special, but more than that it adds a degree of pain that is distracting and at times debilitating that makes it very difficult to focus. Once again, Jimmy didn’t miss a game and what’s more in the playoffs Seattle still felt he was so much of a threat that they had coverage rolled over to him nearly the whole game. That’s right folks, a shadow of the Titan formerly known as Graham scared the eventual Super Bowl  champs more than the entire array of weapons afforded to Peyton Manning. Manning faced single coverage all game.

Jimmy is going to get a massive contract and provided that he comes back healthy, which he will, he will be worth every penny of it. We as fans put our hearts into our team and we shouldn’t be expected to always be level headed (God knows I’m not), but we do need to stop attacking Jimmy when he exhibited a level of toughness and dedication that most of us would be hard pressed to match.