NEW ORLEANS — Even at age 33, after being abruptly released by the Tennessee Titans in mid-June, veteran Daniel Graham knew where he stood among NFL tight ends.
He knew job offers would come his way because of the shortage of good blocking tight ends with 10 accredited NFL seasons. But unless the right offer came along, he was prepared to call it a career after 224 catches for 2,490 yards and 25 touchdowns with New England, Denver and the Titans.
So, when the New Orleans Saints called his agent during a 7-6 exhibition loss to the New England Patriots the night of Aug. 9, Graham listened intently and, within days, signed a one-year contract.
On Thursday night, at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Graham will come face-to-face with his old team in the final preseason tuneup for both teams.
“I didn’t want to retire, but I was close; I really was,’’ said Graham, a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2002. “I told my agent that if a team calls, a team that had a legit shot at winning the Super Bowl or going to the Super Bowl, I would play. I wasn’t interested going to a rebuilding team.
“This late in my career, I really wanted a chance to go back to the Super Bowl and get that Lombardi Trophy. So when the Saints called, I was excited. I know this is a good team, and this team has a really good chance of going and winning it all.’’
Whether Graham survives the final cut from 75 to 53 by 8 p.m. Friday remains to be seen. But it appears that he will receive strong consideration from the Saints’ coaching co-op because of his ability to put helmet on helmet and move defenders out of the way.
Blocking is not necessarily a strong point for Saints’ tight ends Jimmy Graham and David Thomas, and second-year tight end Michael Higgins is an unproven commodity, factors that could work in Daniel Graham’s favor when all is said and done.
“He can block the linebacker that is over him, and he can block the (defensive) end over him,” Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt said of Daniel Graham.
“He can see that barrier and the power running game behind him. There is usually movement on the ball, and he can displace some linemen to the second level also.”
Graham (6-3, 257) was displaced in Tennessee after just one season when the Titans selected SMU tight end Taylor Thompson (6-6, 259) in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Graham played in 16 games last season, primarily as a run blocker for three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson.
But in the end, Graham’s lack of production as a receiver (two catches) didn’t justify his scheduled $2 million base salary in 2012.
“I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen so much happen in this league,’’ Graham said. “I understand this is a business and anything can happen. Tennessee wanted to move in a different direction, and I understand that. We parted on good terms. I’ve still got friends on the Titans that I talk to.’’
It’s all business, too, in New Orleans, where Daniel Graham understands his role on a record-setting offense that features phenom Jimmy Graham, a third-year player with a basketball background who took the NFL by storm last season with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Saints officials did not sign Daniel Graham to catch passes. That job belongs to Jimmy Graham and occasionally to David Thomas, a former third-round pick of the Patriots who played with Daniel Graham in New England in 2006.
“They want me to do what I have done throughout my career: be a good run blocker and pass protect,’’ Daniel Graham said. “I understand Jimmy (Graham) is the pass-catching tight end. I’m not coming in here thinking I’m going to catch 50 balls a season or whatever. I’m not looking to do that. I’m here to block. That’s been the strong point of my career. There aren’t too many tight ends nowadays that can really block, and that is one thing I got going for me.’’
Saints officials are banking on it.