At first glance, sizing up players from two separate sports may seem like comparing apples to oranges. But in the case of former Milwaukee Brewer Jonathan Schoop and current Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham, the two former stars draw interesting similarities.
Both players are former All-Pros/All-Stars who have come up incredibly short of expectations during their brief season stints with their respective Wisconsin squads. For Schoop, it was a .202 batting average and .577 OPS, paired with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost 6:1 over about a quarter of a season. His lack of power also was a minus for a team seeking run production at the time of his acquisition. For Graham, the numbers on paper are not nearly as bad with 581 yards and 11.9 yards-per-reception. However, the lack of production in the red zone with only a couple of touchdowns and a year-long inability to get on page with Aaron Rodgers is the kicker. Graham’s drops over the past few weeks — or at least missing on catchable passes that should have been made by a player earning his salary — have shown a player that is just a shade of his former self. Graham’s steady decline in athleticism and gaining separation from defenders also is noticeable.
Though the sample size of Graham’s fit in Green Bay will be greater than that of Schoop’s to Milwaukee, the offensive shortcomings of both players have put each of their teams in tough offseason predicaments.
The Milwaukee Brewers had to make a difficult decision to part ways with Schoop after being on the hook for an estimated $10 million in arbitration with one year left of team control. Despite the hefty prospect trade price the Brewers made to acquire Schoop, General Manager David Stearns decided Schoop’s production simply did not justify the anticipated contract, even on a one-year basis. Milwaukee cut its losses by non-tendering Schoop and is in the process of moving on and trying to find a better fit at second base.
Green Bay signed Jimmy Graham to a three-year deal that, like Schoop, will pay him around $10 million annually. However, unlike the Schoop situation, a sure-fire fill-in is not right around the corner for the Packers. The Brewers have top prospect Keston Hiura, but there really is not a replacement for Graham unless the Packers see Robert Tonyan as a long-term developmental piece. Reserves Marcedes Lewis and Lance Kendricks also appear to be headed for free agency, making the tight end position a priority for re-shaping in the offseason regardless of a Graham return. Rob Demovsky of ESPN recently broke down the financial ramifications if Graham is released following the season.
Graham, who receives $13 million this season, has a $5 million roster bonus due in March. The Packers could decline the bonus and release him. They would have to absorb the remaining two-thirds of the signing bonus proration ($7.333 million) as dead money on their cap in 2019 -- or it could be split between 2019 and 2020 if they designed him as a post-June 1 cut. However, they would wipe away the remaining $17 million from their future caps, so there would be a net cap savings of about $9 million.
While the Packers surely could move on from Graham, over $7 million in dead money is a lot to eat up for Green Bay. Green Bay could be better served to give Graham another offseason with Rodgers and build chemistry for 2019 before cutting him loose in 2020. That option would free up the final $8 million of Graham’s contract and give Green Bay the chance to see their plunge in free agency fully play out. Like Schoop, the Packers would be betting on a one-year improvement and a get-me-over until the team’s next tight end can be drafted or signed. While the cash-strapped Brewers ultimately chose to seek a quality replacement at a lower risk and cost, the Packers will have plenty of money to play with in spring with their number of expiring contracts. Giving Graham a second chance is feasible.
Unfortunately, both the Packers and Brewers have struck out more than they have hit home runs with Graham and Schoop. Making matters worse is that the players that were seemingly upgraded with both acquisitions — Jordy Nelson and Jonathan Villar — arguably would have brought more production, as neither Graham or Schoop looked fully comfortable in their new roles. The Brewers avoided spending money to move on without Schoop, but the Packers would still have to absorb a cap hit with Graham.
But after a disappointing year, it may be time for the Packers to build their new offense without a disappointing contract, taking a roster-building lesson from the Brewers.