GREEN BAY, Wis. Jimmy Graham began the final season of his $40 million contract on Sunday.
It was not a roaring start.
On the first play of the Seahawks’ 17-9 loss at Green Bay in the season opener on Sunday at Lambeau Field, Russell Wilson threw incomplete to his star tight end. That was largely because Rees Odhiambo, making his first career start at left tackle, got beaten by a Packers pass rusher at the snap.
On the second play of the season, Wilson flipped a lateral outside right to wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Baldwin lost 3 yards because Graham didn’t block the Packer in front of him.
By midway through the first quarter Wilson was under siege behind the malfunctioning offensive line. The Seahawks began keeping Graham, second tight end Luke Willson, even running backs Tre Madden, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise in to help on pass protection. At the end of helping, Graham would peel off into short, dump-off routes.
That and a couple incomplete passes on well-covered plays designed for him are why he had three catches on seven targets for only 8 yards on Sunday.
Wilson threw to Graham on two of the game’s bigger—and for Seattle, more frustrating—plays.
On third and goal from the 3 in the third quarter with the Seahawks down 7-3, Wilson scrambled away from more pressure and threw for the 6-foot-7 Graham in the back right of the end zone. Before the high pass arrived, two Packers hit Graham. The officials, two of them on the spot, did not throw a flag for pass interference.
Carroll said he was told it was because the officials deemed the throw uncatchable out of the back of the end zone. The coach noted he saw the ball land in the white, 3-yard, painted border that is immediately past the end line. Wilson also said he thought Graham got hit early on the play.
The Seahawks got Blair Walsh’s second field goal instead and still trailed 7-6. They never got closer to the lead.
With 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter Seattle trailed 14-6 and had another third and 3, from its own 44. Wilson threw a back-shoulder pass deep down the left sideline to Graham, who had beaten his defender deep in Packers territory. Graham turned to his left, had the ball on both hands—then dropped it before it plopped out of bounds into the triumphant Green Bay sideline.
Instead of being poised for a potential tying touchdown, the Seahawks punted for sixth and final time.
Graham is months from the end of the contract Seattle inherited when it traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round pick to New Orleans for him in 2015. He could become a free agent in March. Some have looked ahead to the possibility the Seahawks will decide not to invest multiple years in the 30-year-old tight end and instead use their franchise tag to keep Graham for 2018 on a one-year contract. That would be either at the average of the top five salaries for tight ends next year or for a mandated 120 percent of the 2017 franchise-tag salary for tight ends of $9,865,555, or $11,838,666, whichever is higher.
On Sunday, that looked like a particularly steep cost for production gained.