Arena: Graham trade opens up chance for Saints, ESJ’s Lewis

Published 11:45 pm Friday, March 13, 2015

“Pick up your phone.”

“I’m kind of tied up right now. What’s up?”

“No, man … really. Pick it up.”

That was the text exchange between a buddy and I before he got to break the news over the phone: Jimmy Graham, THE Saints go-to guy over the past four seasons, had been traded.

“To who?” I asked.

“Jimmy Graham is now a Seattle Seahawk.”

“For what?” I followed up, channeling by inner Ricky Watters.

“Max Unger and their first round pick.”

We then, as fans tend to do, played out all the scenarios. “We’re going after Revis!” “No, this happened too suddenly. We’ve got to HAVE AN AGREEMENT WITH HIM ALREADY!” “Something’s up, dude.” “Yeah, this is just the first domino. They’ve got someone in the bag!”

Obviously, by now we know Darrelle Revis is a New York Jet again, for more money than even noted salary cap magician Mickey Loomis (more on that, later) could push off into the future. But nonetheless, the Saints just dealt their second most recognizable player, in the middle of his prime, to a two-time defending NFC Champion and the biggest roadblock to a New Orleans Super Bowl return.

Reaction has been mixed: this trade blew up Twitter and Facebook, and a false Drew Brees trade rumor that followed that news up turned the internet into a full-on Michael Bay action flick. It’s a gutsy move, and I respect the Saints front office for having the guts to move on from a popular player to retool the rest of the roster. What will tell the tale is whom the Saints add with the extra cap room. Max Unger is regarded as a dominant center. Another first round draft pick could potentially help immediately.

Adding Brandon Browner was an excellent start. The Saints were helpless at cornerback beyond Keenan Lewis last season, and Browner is the kind of big, physical defensive back the Ryan brothers love to employ in their system. Yes, he’s benefitted from playing across from Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman, but Lewis has proven himself as a shutdown corner too.

There’s plenty more work to do. As of Friday morning, the Saints were working with eight draft picks after another sudden trade, this time of Ben Grubbs to the Chiefs for a 5th rounder. They will need to add another pass rusher, perhaps a 3rd cornerback and help at receiver. Restocking the offensive line’s depth is also a must. When Sean Payton took over the Saints in 2006, he made an obvious point of drafting offensive linemen in the middle rounds, and the Saints were annually deep and talented there until recently.

If nothing else, the Graham trade signifies to me Payton is going back to the bare bones construction of what he believes makes a successful a football team. Flashy skill weapons are helpful. But if you can’t block up front; if you can’t cover; if you can’t rush the opposing passer; and if you can’t credibly run the football, you’re going to have problems.

Trading Graham could one day prove to be a massive mistake. I applaud taking the chance though; the second half of 2014 yielded nothing promising, and Sean Payton has found success through his aggressive attitude more often than not.  

• The Graham trade had a ripple effect greatly affecting one of our own, as well. Last season, with Unger sidelined, Seattle turned to East St. John alum Patrick Lewis to man the center position. Lewis started four games and helped pave the way for a team record rushing performance at Arizona in Week 16. With Unger now a Saint, Lewis has a chance to compete for that starting job, and for my money, he just might win it.

When speaking of great athletes, most coaches will offer affirmation of their ability; anyone speaking of Lewis, I’ve found, has always been willing to go a little further. His former head coach at ESJ, Larry Dauterive, calls him the greatest lineman he’s ever coached. Destrehan’s Stephen Robicheaux said of Lewis, “Coach Dauterive would move him around, we’d know where the ball was going, and we couldn’t stop it.”

After Lewis was tabbed to start in Unger’s stead late last season, he told L’OBSERVATEUR, “It meant I was just a step closer to living my dream of being an NFL starter. It’s what I’ve wanted since I was a little kid.”

Today, Lewis is even closer than that. Here’s hoping we see plenty more of him on the field in 2015.