GREEN BAY — This was not what Jimmy Graham had in mind.
A wide smile had creased the new Green Bay Packers tight end’s face when asked upon his arrival for the offseason program in April if he felt like he would be “unleashed” in the offense after being largely miscast in Seattle the previous three seasons. A five-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints, Graham couldn’t wait to get to work with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
On Friday, Graham wasn’t smiling. (Except when Rodgers came over with his iPhone to record Graham’s rare locker-room Q&A session with reporters and bring a brief moment of levity to the conversation.)
With three games left in the regular season, Graham’s first — and possibly only, despite the three-year, $30 million deal he signed as a free agent in March — year in Green Bay has been a keen disappointment for him. He’s not pleased with the Packers’ record (5-7-1) or his own production (46 receptions, 549 yards, two touchdowns).
“My numbers suck,” Graham said.
That might be an overstatement, though after catching 10 touchdown passes last year in Seattle, he certainly hasn’t been the red zone field-tilter he was expecting to be this season. Suffering a broken thumb — “shatter” was the word Graham used to describe the injury Friday — at Seattle on Nov. 15 certainly hasn’t helped, though Graham insisted his statistics aren’t the primary reason for his discontent.
It’s how the numbers underscore his lack of impact this season — and tie into the Packers’ sub-.500 record — that bothers him.
“My numbers aren’t the problem. That’s not what it’s about, you know?” Graham said. “I just want to win games. If I have a one catch for 2 yards and we win, I don’t care. But obviously it’s not great when you’re not helping us win. And that’s what I see.”
A few times during the 5-minute interview, Graham mentioned that he was trying to “do my job” and “do what I’m told.” He seemed to acknowledge that despite his past success, the adjustment to the Packers’ offense hasn’t gone as he expected.
“I’m just trying to do my job, do what I’m told,” Graham said. “It’s just in this offense, the tight end does a lot of stuff. I’ve got a lot of responsibilities — just not running routes and out here catching the ball like a receiver. That’s just how it is. I’m just trying to do my job and do what I’m told.
“I’ve never lost this much, so it’s obviously not something I’m used to. Wow, he’s recording it. Um, yeah, I’ll never be OK with losing. It doesn’t matter. I love to win. We’ve got to get back to that. Last week was a great step in the right direction. We’ve just got to do what we can control and try to keep winning.”
That includes Sunday at Chicago, where the Packers will try to keep their faint playoff hopes alive against the 9-4 Bears and one of the league’s top defenses. With right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) listed as doubtful, backup Jason Spriggs is expected to start — and Graham and the other tight ends and running backs will likely have to help in pass protection against Khalil Mack & Co.
“This offense, the tight end’s got to do a lot of stuff,” Graham reiterated. “Obviously, we’re going to play a great defense that’s got a great (pass) rush. I’ll be a part of stopping that rush, and that’s just how it is.”
Graham’s three-year deal contained a guaranteed $11 million signing bonus and $13 million in total pay for 2018. He has a $5 million roster bonus due in March, which the Packers could opt not to pay, making him a free agent again. That would leave two-thirds of the signing bonus to absorb into the salary cap ($7.333 million), and they could take the full hit on the 2019 cap or designate Graham a post-June 1 cut and spread the hit over the next two years.
“I think he’s done a lot of good things,” offensive passing-game coordinator Jim Hostler said. “First year with a new quarterback, new system, those kinds of things — there’s some things I’m sure he’d look at and want back and some opportunities we’ve missed probably as we’ve gone through the season. But I think those are the kinds of things that (have happened this season).
“We’re where we are because of some things that have happened during the season. And maybe how his season has played out might be disappointing to some, might be encouraging to others.”
For Graham, he’d just like another season in Green Bay to show what he can still do. After turning 32 last month, Graham knows he hasn’t been the difference-maker he believes he still can be.
“You know, I’ve always dominated everywhere I’ve went. Obviously, I haven’t done that yet here,” Graham said. “So, it would be nice to get an opportunity to do it. Come back and maybe just be kind of more comfortable here. But I’m going to give it my all no matter what’s asked of me anywhere I go, or if I stay here.”
Bulaga was listed as doubtful, and while the Packers don’t practice on Fridays, the team’s injury report indicated Bulaga would not have taken part if they had. Bulaga was officially doubtful last week against Atlanta, too, and didn’t play, so Spriggs is likely to start. … Defensive tackle Kenny Clark (elbow) was officially listed as questionable, and he would not have practiced Friday, either. … Cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin/not injury related) was traveling back to Green Bay on Friday after attending to a personal matter the last few days, interim head coach Joe Philbin said. Breeland, who had a pick-6 interception against the Falcons, is listed as questionable and figures to be on a snap count if he plays because of the groin injury. … Left guard Lane Taylor (foot) was removed from the injury report and will play after missing last week’s game.