The Chicago Bears have at least made the effort to revamp their tight end room this offseason, signing Demetrius Harris and Jimmy Graham so far in the free agency period. For what was a position that gave the Bears virtually no production last season, there needed to be an overhaul going into 2020 to help fix some of the problems the offense had.
One of those signings came in the form of the veteran Graham, who was the first player the Bears signed during the “tampering period” on March 16th. The 33-year-old Graham is a veteran in this league but has struggled over the past few years and is a shell of what he once was when he dominated the position.
But Graham is feeling rejuvenated and is hungrier than ever as he joins a Bears team that is hoping to get back on track after finishing in third place in the 2019 season, a disappointing campaign after winning the NFC North in 2018.
“I’m the type of person, I’m excited to play for Ryan Pace. I’m excited to be his player again and to give him everything that I have,” Graham said. “I’m going to battle each and every game and to have the belief obviously from the top down in yourself in the right system for me is just a dream come true and an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. The opportunity to go back and play for Ryan Pace and to prove my worth throughout the NFL. I’m hungrier than ever.”
Graham was originally drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2010 when current Bears General Manager Ryan Pace was a scout for the organization. He credited Pace as a big reason why he was drafted by the Saints after many labeled him as a “do-not-touch” prospect out of Miami. Graham had a career-year in 2013 with the Saints, catching 86 passes for 1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns and averaged 14.7 yards per reception. That year earned him NFL All-Pro honors and one of his five Pro Bowl selections.
With his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame, Graham is a big target not only in the open field but in the red zone as well. His basketball background helped him being an elite target in the red zone, being able to use that body and leaping ability to win those contested battles against defensive backs and linebackers.
Since those glory days, Graham has also spent time in Seattle and more recently Green Bay for the past two years where the production dipped off a bit. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2017 and has had two okay years in Green Bay catching 93 passes for 1,083 yards and just five touchdowns. After being cut by the Packers earlier in the month, Graham feels like he has something to prove on his new team in Chicago.
“Obviously, it was a tough pill to swallow. It was the first time I lost my job,” Graham said. “And I work extremely hard, I’ve sacrificed everything for this game, I’ve given it everything I have and obviously to go through that it was difficult.”
“So for me, this was a great opportunity to prove myself, to show everybody what I can do and the type of player that I am. Obviously I’m a kid that’s from the gutter. I come from nothing. This opportunity is everything for me. I take it extremely serious. I’m excited for us to get by this as a country so I can get back to work and march my way back up to the top, because I’ve always said, if I didn’t think I had the ability to dominate this league then I wouldn’t play anymore. But I still believe that I have that ability and I’m going to take each and every day and take each and every game to prove myself worthy of being on this team and I’m going to give them everything I got.”
After briefly testing the free-agent market this year before quickly agreeing to a deal with Chicago, Graham laid out what he was looking for in his ideal team.
A great defense, an offensive system that would fit his style, a coach and the culture of the franchise. The Bears checked all of those boxes for Graham and in the end, it was an easy decision for the veteran.
“It’s just like Kansas City’s offense and this is the closest I’ve gotten to being in an offense back when I was with New Orleans. For me moving forward it was about looking at what teams had in place—a great defense because you can’t win deep in the playoffs without a great defense, and then the right system for myself,” Graham said. “That was kind of the biggest draw for me was a coach and a system that uses a tight end the way I know how to be used. All the conversations I had with coach, it just made sense to me. To be able to use matchups and to be able to use the tight end down the field, it’s just very attractive. That’s what I am, I’m that matchup problem. So for me to get back to that and get back to running down the field and get back to scoring touchdowns and helping the team push toward the playoffs, that’s what I care about.”
After spending the past two seasons in Green Bay, Graham was able to get a feel for the Bears going up against them four total times. He pointed to the Bears as being a team that knows what it takes to win, and is hungry to rebound after an 8-8 season.
Graham hopes he can be a big part of getting back to the winning ways in 2020 for a ‘hungry’ team.
“For me, obviously I played against them for the last two years and to go back to two years ago, I remember going up there and they come to us, I mean absolute battles,” Graham said. “And to see obviously a team coming off a season that was disappointing, I see a team that’s hungry. I see a team that two years ago had a ton of success. Last year had a bunch of injuries and fell short. Coming off of that, you have a team that’s hungry to win, hungry to improve and hungry to get back to the playoffs. And make a chance at a ring. Ya know? That’s what was so attractive to me, was what I saw from the outside. I know how hard they play and I know how much fun they have together. And to see that from the other side but now have the opportunity to go play with that, with a team that is hungry and where everybody is going to put their head down and just work. That’s what I’m about. That’s what I’ve always been about. So to be a part of that, I’m very excited.”
As for Graham’s goal after signing a two-year deal in Chicago, the tight end hopes to do something the Bears haven’t done in over 30 years. Bring a Super Bowl back to the Windy City in 2021 and end that drought.
“Chicago deserves a Super Bowl. They haven’t had one since 1985. Now is the time, with the kind of team that Ryan Pace has built. … That’s why I wanted to be in Chicago.”