This might be the first bit of specific Free Agency news that we've heard from the tight-lipped front office of Rick Smith. Re-signing Graham would possibly give the team an easy way out with Owen Daniels, who's set to earn $6.25 million against the cap this year. His release would save the team $4.5 million this year.
But maybe this move isn't about just quickly finding a cheap replacement for Daniels. Perhaps Smith is wanting to keep the pair of Wisconsin tight ends together for at least one more year for new head coach Bill O'Brien.
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O'Brien is no stranger to the virtues of a two-pronged tight end offense, having coached Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to great effect back in 2011 for the New England Patriots. Under O'Brien, the two combined for 169 receptions, 2,237 yards, and 24 touchdowns... in 2011 alone.
If Daniels can survive a roster culling, he and Graham could be an effective duo of pass-catchers for whoever is taking snaps for the Texans...like, say, a rookie quarterback taken in this year's NFL Draft. And while Daniels and Graham don't exactly stack up physically to Gronkowski and Hernandez, there's so much more involved than just height and speed in O'Brien's offense. Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Matt Lehman, O'Brien's most recent tight ends at Penn State, can attest to that.
"We have a lot of motion, and then he just puts us in a lot of situations." Carter told reporters at the team’s media day. "Sometimes we’ll be out wide, sometimes in the slot, sometimes at running back, sometimes at fullback, sometimes on the line as a regular tight end, so the defense can’t really pinpoint where you’re gonna be at every play."
From James and Lehman:
While a superb athlete can play tight end with the physical attributes, excelling in O’Brien’s offense is anotherstory. It takes an extra measure of dedication off the field and in meeting rooms.
It wasn’t always that easy for James to pick up on a pro-style offense with so many different reads, options and changes available to the quarterback at the line of scrimmage.
O’Brien said behind quarterback, tight end is the most difficult position to learn in his offense. Lehman said the position’s assignments can change almost every play at the line of scrimmage, and he always has to be aware of what McGloin was barking.
It's clear that it's not just about out-running and out-leaping everyone on the field. O'Brien wants his tight ends as cerebral as his quarterback. It's certainly feasible that he'd want the smoothest transition possible with two veteran tight ends in Daniels and Graham to go along with an impressive physical specimen in Ryan Griffin.
It's impossible to predict but very enjoyable to speculate what O'Brien and Smith are planning to do with the offense. Whatever it is, we can almost guarantee that the tight end position will be integral to it all.