The athletic tight end faces a difficult road to recovery this offseason after suffering a ruptured patellar tendon in Week 12 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's an argument to be made that the Graham experiment could come to an end after one season in Seattle, but Schneider said he can't envision a scenario where the Seahawks cut ties with Graham.
"No, I don’t, I really don’t," he said during an interview with 950 KJR-AM. "I understand why people would say that based on the salary and what some people have … people on the outside may perceive as a lack of production. But really, truly, the guy is a special player. We gave up a No. 1 draft choice for him. He’s a great guy. He’s going through a lot right now with his rehab, and he did nothing but give it his best since he came here."
There are three main aspects to the Graham situation. The most significant is his health. If the Seahawks were guaranteed to get the same athlete they traded for last offseason, keeping him and incorporating him into the offense would be a no-brainer. But ESPN's Stephania Bell offered insightful analysis about the difficulty in recovering from this particular injury. The truth is it's difficult to know what the 2016 version of Graham will look like from an athleticism/movement standpoint.
The second factor is money. Graham carries a cap hit of $9 million next season, and none of that is guaranteed. If the Seahawks were to release him, they would get $9 million in cap relief without any dead money.
And the third factor is production. Graham was averaging 55.0 receiving yards per game before he went down. That ranked eighth among tight ends. And he'd scored just two touchdowns. In five regular-season games without Graham, the Seahawks' offense averaged 31.20 points per game, second in the NFL. Of course, that number doesn't mean a whole lot. Graham just happened to go down as the offense was finding a rhythm. In the last three games that the Seahawks played with Graham, they scored 32, 29 and 39 points, respectively.
"I understand why people would say, ‘Why didn’t he come in here and just take the offense to another level early on?' Schneider told 710 ESPN Seattle. "But I think the whole offensive unit, we were trying to find our way early on."
It's highly unlikely at this point that the Seahawks part ways with Graham before the 2016 season. It might make sense to use the $9 million elsewhere, but if that's the direction the Seahawks want to go, they would have to part ways with Graham before free agency. And that doesn't seem to be something they are considering. Gaining that cap relief late in August isn't as big of a deal because there won't be many difference-making players available.
Given what they gave up to acquire Graham, Schneider and coach Pete Carroll will want to give him every opportunity to make an impact.
Down the stretch, quarterback Russell Wilson did a great job in the quick passing game and in the red zone. The Seahawks' offense had more structure and less improvisation than it had in the past. That's something Graham should benefit from.
It's possible that Graham will never be the offensive weapon the Seahawks were expecting when they acquired him, but they seem committed to giving him every opportunity to be productive in 2016.