The New Orleans Saints' signing of Jimmy Graham on Tuesday to a one-year deal wasn't about nostalgia. Rather, it was because the Saints had a need to fill at tight end, and Graham is a good candidate to fill it.
But it certainly helped that Graham had the most productive seasons of his career in New Orleans, and that he wanted to return to the franchise that he believes knows him best, and that the team has contemplated his return for several seasons.
Graham, who sat out last season, will be entering his 12th year. But the Saints' third-round pick in 2010 (No. 95 overall) had a star-studded start in New Orleans, where he spent his initial five NFL seasons.
After a part-time role as a rookie, when he caught 31 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns, Graham had a monumental four-season run with averages of 89 catches for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. He ranks second in franchise history with 51 touchdown catches, and sixth in both receptions (386) and receiving yards (4,752). Among NFL tight ends, he ranks fourth in history with 85 touchdown catches.
New Orleans also signed veteran guard Trai Turner on Tuesday.
"We signed Jimmy Graham and Trai Turner, both of which are good, veteran players that I think can bring a lot to our football team, in terms of a veteran presence and the ability to still play at an acceptable and a high level," Coach Dennis Allen said.
"We're always looking for anybody that we think can help us be a better football team. (Graham) was a subject that we broached a little bit even last season, but it kind of transpired throughout the course of the summer.
"We wanted to make sure that Jimmy still had the desire to play, which he does. And we brought him in (Monday) for a workout. He looked great, he's in great shape and he wants to be here. He wants to play for the Saints. We felt like that was a good addition for that room.
"We've got some young, ascending players in that room in terms of Foster Moreau, Juwan Johnson. Taysom (Hill) obviously has his role. We've got some young players that we feel good about and are looking to develop, and we felt like Jimmy was kind of the perfect fit for that room.
"I think this was the one place that Jimmy would be interested in returning to and continuing to play."
After Graham was traded to the Seahawks, he played three seasons in Seattle before playing two in Green Bay and two in Chicago. His career totals are 713 catches for 8,506 yards.
"We talked about Jimmy last year a couple of time" said Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis. "We've had some conversations about him in the past, there's been a couple of times in the past four or five years where when he became a free agent, we discussed bringing him back and had conversations with his agent. It came down to a need on our part and a desire on his part to play this year, and I think we've got a role that fits him and fits us. I'm excited about it. He brings a presence and a resume and an attitude that I like having on our team.
"He certainly expressed to us and to me that the Saints would be a high priority for him. Maybe I'll get the respect of my daughter back, because she killed me when we traded him years ago. He was her favorite player. I think she'll be excited."
Loomis said he sees a different Graham than the one who left New Orleans.
"I can see the difference in maturity from now as opposed to when he was with us and we traded him, his experiences," Loomis said. "He's a really, highly intelligent player. Understands himself and the team dynamic. I think he'll be a nice addition to our team and in the locker room, especially."
Turner will look to add depth to the offensive line. Right guard Cesar Ruiz couldn't finish last season due to a Lisfranc injury, and left guard Andrus Peat missed 17 games in the previous two seasons. Turner, a five-time Pro Bowler entering his 10th season, missed one game the last two seasons. He played six seasons for the Carolina Panthers, which pitted him against the Saints twice per season.
"We've played against him a lot," Allen said. "He's a big, physical offensive guard. I think that's probably the No. 1 quality that you see in him, is just the physicality that he plays with. We've had some good battles against him in the past and feel like he's a good fit for what we want to be able to do offensively.
"This is not a health-related signing. This is a signing that we felt like there's a veteran player that we can bring in, put into the mix and then let's see how the competition plays out."