Veteran tight end Jimmy Graham conducted a conference call with the Chicago media Thursday after officially signing a two-year contract with the Bears.
Here are the highlights of the 24-minute session:
- Graham revealed that he was attracted to the Bears in large part due to the vital role the tight end plays in coach Matt Nagy's offense.
"That was kind of the biggest draw for me was a coach and a system that use a tight end the way I know how to be used," Graham said. "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."
Graham, 33, has appeared in 153 NFL games with 111 starts over 10 seasons with the Saints (2010-14), Seahawks (2015-17) and Packers (2019), catching 649 passes for 7,883 yards and 74 touchdowns. Since the 6-7, 265-pounder entered the league in 2010, his receiving yards are the most among NFL tight ends, while his receptions and touchdown catches both rank second.
The importance of the tight end in the offense coupled with the presence of a championship-caliber defense convinced Graham to sign with the Bears. "For me, it just seemed like the perfect fit," he said.
- Graham views the Bears as a team that's determined to rebound from a disappointing 8-8 season and revert to the form it displayed in winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record in 2018.
"I see a team that's hungry," Graham said. "I see a team that two years ago had a ton of success. Last year had a bunch of injuries and fell short, and now 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 [run] at a ring."
Graham felt he was familiar with the Bears having played against them twice each of the past two seasons as a member of the rival Packers.
"That's what was so attractive to me, was what I saw from the outside," he said. "I know how hard they play and I know how much fun they have together. And to see that from the other side and now have the opportunity to go play with that, a team that is hungry and everyone 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."
- Graham is especially excited to reunite with Pace, who worked in the Saints' personnel department in 2010 when New Orleans selected the tight end in the third round of the draft.
Graham was hardly a can't-miss prospect when he entered the draft after playing just one season of college football. He played basketball for four years at Miami before switching to football in 2009 as a grad student. Appearing in 13 games, he caught 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns.
"Ryan Pace was a part of bringing me to New Orleans and drafting me," Graham said. "Back then I guess on a lot of guys' boards, I was basically the 2010 'don't touch this guy' draft pick. Coming from a basketball court, a lot of people didn't believe in me and didn't think that I could do it. And Ryan Pace was a part of that belief and a part of bringing me into New Orleans."
Graham emerged as a star in his second NFL season in New Orleans in 2011, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl after catching 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2013, he was named first-team All-Pro when he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and a league-leading 16 TDs. In four seasons with the Saints from 2011-14, he averaged 89 receptions, 1,099 yards and 11.5 TDs.
Graham is eager to perform well for Pace in their second stint together.
"I know that he knows who I am and what I am and the ability that I still do have," Graham said. "I'm excited to play for Ryan Pace. I'm excited to be his player again and to give him everything that I have. I'm going to battle each and every game and to have the belief obviously from the top down in yourself and 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 to be the person I am and to be the player I know I can be."
- Graham's production declined the past two seasons in Green Bay. He caught 55 passes for 636 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 and followed with 38 receptions for 447 yards and three TDs in 2019. But he's confident that his gas tank remains full.
"I'm still fast and I still have the ability to make big plays," Graham said. "Over the last two years, it's been very difficult for me … I work extremely hard. I've sacrificed everything for this game, I've given it everything that I have and obviously to go through that it was difficult.
"Now I have the opportunity to win a bunch of games this year and I'm very grateful for that and I'm obviously grateful for the opportunity and the friendships that I did make [in Green Bay]. But for me, it's lit a fire. I know what player I am and I know what I can do.
"I'm going to be there on the field, I'm going to be there for my teammates and I'm going to be there for the organization and give them every ounce of what I have. So for me this is a great opportunity to prove myself, to show everybody what I can do and the type of player that I am.
"I'm a kid that's from the gutter. I come from nothing. This opportunity is everything for me and I take it extremely serious … 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 game to prove myself worthy to be on this team and I'm going to give them everything I've got."
Graham said that he's no longer bothered by a sore knee that hampered him the past two seasons.
"My knee right now is the best it's felt in four or five years," he said. "This is the best that I've ran, this is the fastest I've been in the last four or five years. … I'm going to get back to being me. I'm going to get back to making big plays and scoring touchdowns."
Graham is determined to help lead the Bears to a Super Bowl title, especially after the Packers lost to the 49ers in last season's NFC Championship Game.
"To be that close to a Super Bowl and not to be able to grasp that opportunity was heartbreaking," Graham said. "[In the Bears] I see a team that's hungry. I see a coaching staff that's hungry. And I see an ownership that's hungry. Chicago deserves a Super Bowl. They haven't had one since 1985. For me, now is the time. With the type of team that Ryan Pace has built, to be able to be a piece that might fit in to making that happen is what's special to me and why I wanted to be in Chicago."
Take a look at new Bears Tight End Jimmy Graham in action. A five-time pro bowler, Graham has 649 receptions, 7,883 receiving yards, and 74 receiving touchdowns in his 10 seasons between Green Bay, Seattle, and New Orleans.