It's not often a 36-year-old with a dozen NFL seasons under his belt is playing important minutes in the final preseason game of the year. But Jimmy Graham's quest to find a roster spot in New Orleans isn't your average reunion.
Graham missed the Saints' second preseason game after what the club defined as a "medical episode" likely involving a seizure in Los Angeles. That missed time made Sunday's reps against the Houston Texans vital in Graham's quest to make the roster.
The longtime veteran, who didn't play in 2022, shined, snagging three passes on four targets for 34 yards and a touchdown. Those grabs included a nice 25-yard back-shoulder grab and a 3-yard TD from Jameis Winston, in which Graham posted up a defender in the end zone. Those two plays highlight what Graham can bring to the Saints offense if he makes the 53-man roster: Contested catches and red zone acumen.
"Yeah, I think that was one of the things that -- we've said this," head coach Dennis Allen said when asked about Graham, per the official transcript. "We'd like to see it every day from these guys, particularly veteran players, but at some point, we have to see it. We saw it tonight."
Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau and Taysom Hill are all locked into roster spots at tight end. Graham is battling for the fourth TE gig along with Jesse James (dealing with injury), J.P. Holtz and Lucas Krull.
Sunday, Graham stated his case for the gig.
"Really, probably since the Chargers practices, I started to see some signs of the mental picture I have of Jimmy Graham," Allen said. "Again, I saw it this week in practice, and I saw it carry over into the game. That's a positive."
Graham spent his first five seasons with the Saints before three in Seattle, two in Green Bay and two more in Chicago. He didn't land on a roster in 2022. When last we saw Graham with the Bears in 2021, he netted 14 catches for 167 yards and three TDs in 15 games. There wasn't much gas left in the tank then, but Graham showed signs this preseason he can still make tough catches and score TDs.
"He is a living legend," Winston said. "It is a blessing to be able to throw him the ball and watch him go out there and make spectacular catches."
The Saints seem likely to keep four TEs (especially with Hill's involvement in other positions), and Sunday's performance could have clinched the gig for Graham. But with the deadline to reduce rosters to 53 by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, it's no given.
"It just reminded me of all the amazing moments I had here in front of these fans, with my teammates and with this coaching staff, so many special moments and wins," Graham said of making plays Sunday at the Superdome. "I'm looking forward to continuing to capitalize and let this feeling become even bigger. I'm looking forward to the regular season. It's been an amazing training camp, and I can't say enough about how good this team is at every position and how awesome iron sharpening iron is."
If Graham indeed secured a roster spot, he could play a sizable role in the Saints' red-zone operation after proving he can still make contested catches. Graham could steal some of the end-zone targets from Johnson, who is coming off a seven-score 2022 season and is pegged for a breakout campaign.