GREEN BAY – Neither Jimmy Graham nor Tramon Williams expected to see mountainous snow piles all over town Tuesday on their first day of the Green Bay Packers' 2018 offseason conditioning program.
“Obviously, snowed pretty heavily this weekend, so my first drive in the snow is official,” said Graham, who played high school football in North Carolina, in college at Miami and in the pros for New Orleans and Seattle.
Snowmageddon aside, the kind of expectations Graham, a $10-million-a-year tight end the Packers signed in free agency, and Williams, an unrestricted free agent cornerback in his second act with the Packers, brought with them are all football-related.
Both in their 30s, time is not on their side when it comes to holding up a Lombardi Trophy.
Graham, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract that included an $11 million signing bonus, said he was recruited pretty heavily upon becoming a free agent but liked what he saw in Mike McCarthy’s offense, and the guy running it, Aaron Rodgers.
“There was a lot of teams out there who were really pulling on me and I turned down quite a significant amount of money to come here because I believe in not only Mike but, I mean, ‘12’s’ hungry,” Graham said. “I know how he is and I know how competitive he is and I want to ride that wave and try to help him as best I can.”
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Graham is aware the Packers were 7-9 last season, albeit with Rodgers playing in just seven games. But he saw what potential there is for the tight end in McCarthy’s offense, and felt he could get back to being the big producer he was during his five seasons in New Orleans.
The Saints traded him to Seattle in 2015 and he went from averaging 89 catches for 1,099 yards and 11 touchdowns in four seasons as the full-time starter with the Saints to 57 catches for 683 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons with the Seahawks.
“Seattle, defensive based,” Graham said. “Run, run, run and take care of the ball. We won a lot of games that way, and I did everything to the best of my ability, and unfortunately when I first got there I did have that knee injury which kind of slowed me down a bit.
“I was able to come back nine months later and haven’t missed a game since then.”
Graham said he remembers watching Jermichael Finley in the Packers’ offense and saw what Jared Cook did in his one season with Rodgers, so he figured this was a good place for him.
Asked if he’s the same Jimmy Graham, he said, “I’m still 6-7 and can still run a 4.5 (-second 40-yard dash), so I think so. Hopefully, I can do that (produce) here. When my number is called, I’m going to be ready, I can tell you that.”
Graham and Rodgers had struck up a friendship at the Pro Bowl a half dozen years ago, and Rodgers had been in his ear about joining the Packers ever since.
The signing was bittersweet for Rodgers because the Packers needed receiver Jordy Nelson’s salary-cap money to sign Graham. On the same day they cut Nelson, they signed Graham.
“You lose a close friend who you had a lot of success with and gained another guy who you’ve been friends with,” Rodgers said. “We really feel (he) can add a lot to the locker room from a playing perspective but also from a leadership standpoint.
“It’s good having him in there. He’s been around a couple of organizations now. I think he can add a lot to our locker room.”
The Packers think the same is true of Williams.
Gone the last three seasons, Williams has returned to finish off a career that started on the Packers’ practice squad in 2006 and led to him playing in every game but one for the next eight seasons.
Now 35, Williams assumes a leadership role not unlike Charles Woodson’s back when Williams was starting to make his mark in the NFL. He will be counted on to help mentor younger players such as Kevin King, Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins and Lenzy Pipkins, along with any rookies the Packers add.
But after answering a few questions about that role, he reminded reporters that he was here to play cornerback.
“I’m up for that challenge,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m here. But I don’t think they would have just signed me if I couldn’t play, you know? The first reason is because I can play still. The second reason is that I’ve always been that way with guys.”
Williams is one of the few guys in the locker room who has played for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and he said players can expect to be pushed hard, especially when it comes to understanding the defense. He called the defense “simple, but it’s aggressive.”
He also said there must be a lot of smart players on the field.
After playing in four different systems, Williams said he is in a different place than when he left after the ’14 season.
“You go to different teams and you realize every situation ain’t the same,” he said. “So, you have to make adjustments to the situation that you’re in and you find yourself adding more things to your game and having to do more things. I think just over the time, it’s more experience, more volume of things that I may know now that I didn’t know then."