RENTON, Wash. >> The Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints agreed to a trade Tuesday sending tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle in exchange for veteran center Max Unger, pending a physical.
The trade is also expected to include Seattle sending its first-round pick this year to the Saints and the Seahawks receiving New Orleans’ fourth-round selection.
(Unger is a Hawaii Preparatory Academy and University of Oregon alum. Both Graham and Unger are Pro Bowl players.)
Unger has been Seattle’s starting center since his rookie season and fills an immediate need for New Orleans after veteran Jonathan Goodwin became a free agent. Unger was slowed by injuries last season, playing just six regular-season games suffering from ankle and foot injuries. Unger was an All-Pro in 2012 and was a big reason Seattle had the top rushing offense in the NFL.
In the six games Unger played — the first four and Weeks 10 and 11 — the Seahawks averaged 392.5 yards of offense per game, including 203.8 yards rushing. Seattle also allowed 13 total sacks in those six games and Wilson had a passer rating of 95 or higher in five of the six.
In the 10 games Unger missed, Seattle averaged nearly 30 yards less of offense, but the big drop-off was in the running game. The Seahawks rushed for just 153.9 yards in those 10 games when Unger was out.
Under did play in the Super Bowl loss to New England. Seattle used a trio of players — Stephen Schilling, Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre — with Unger out and there is no clear choice to take over. Lewis is under contract for next season, while Jeanpierre and Schilling both became free agents.
Adding pass-catching options for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson appeared to be an offseason priority. But rather than going into free agency, the Seahawks went after one of the top pass catchers in the league regardless of position, and a perennial Pro Bowl tight end.
Fox Sports first reported the trade discussions.
Graham is a former college basketball player who played one year of college football at Miami before the Saints drafted him in the third round in 2010. He became the favorite target of Drew Brees in only his second season. Graham had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, which led the Saints in all three categories.
He has yet to match his 2011 numbers since, but still led New Orleans last season with 85 receptions and 10 touchdown catches despite playing through an injured shoulder. His 889 yards receiving were third on the club last season.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Graham leads all tight ends in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns. Graham held out before the start of last season before signing a $40 million, four-year extension rather than playing under the franchise tag. Seattle will inherit the remaining three years on that contract.
But there may be some bridges to mend in the Seattle locker room when Graham arrives. The Seahawks’ defense was not very complimentary of Graham prior to their meeting in the 2013 playoffs, including a pregame altercation with linebacker Bruce Irvin, and defensive end Michael Bennett calling Graham after the game overrated.
As long as Graham continues to match the impact he provided the Saints, those story lines will be moot.
Despite trading away Graham, the Saints should remain dynamic in the passing game. New Orleans is keeping wide receiving Marques Colston after renegotiating his contract, and the Saints have two promising young receivers in 2013 fifth-round draft choice Kenny Stills and 2014 first-rounder Brandin Cooks.