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Trade for Jimmy Graham, signing of Cary Williams two more big steps for Seahawks

The Seahawks had a busy first day in the NFL free-agency period as they traded for Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and signed former Eagles cornerback Cary Williams.

On the first day of the NFL's free-agency period, the Seahawks signed a cornerback they had to have and traded for a tight end that no one expected would be available.

And when the wheeling and dealing was over Tuesday – or at least on hold – general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll sat down to discuss the trade with the New Orleans Saints to acquire three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and the addition of veteran cornerback Cary Williams.

"We have to continue moving this thing forward," Schneider said. "We always talk about not having a finish line and this is just part of it. Tough decisions, but exciting futures as well."

But the Seahawks' "offseason" maneuvering actually began before the 2014 season was completed. That's because the club signed linebacker and leading tackler K.J. Wright and defensive end Cliff Avril to contract extensions in December. The solidifying of the team's nucleus continued last Friday, when leading rusher Marshawn Lynch was signed to a contract extension.

"With K.J. Wright, Marshawn and Cliff Avril, those were kind of the first three things we really wanted to take care of," Schneider said. "We feel blessed we were able to do that."

So Tuesday's moves, which were hailed by pundits and opponents, were just a continuation of what Schneider and Carroll have been doing since they arrived as almost a package deal in 2010. They have taken a team that won nine games combined in 2008 and 2009 and rebuilt it into one that has played in the past two Super Bowls, as well as winning three NFC West titles and advancing to the playoffs four times in five seasons.

"Right now, we're on course, we're on budget," Schneider said when asked how acquiring Graham could impact the team's ability to make other moves. "We feel like we have a lot to do. We have a lot of goals that we want to accomplish in the offseason."

But the price of doing business in the NFL comes at a cost.

The trade for Graham, which is pending the 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end passing a physical, cost the Seahawks veteran center Max Unger and their first-round pick in next month's NFL Draft. The Seahawks also added a fourth-round pick in the deal.

"We're going to miss Max," Carroll said. "We love Max and he's been a great part of our team. But this was part of the conversation and we had to go here to get this all done."

If not Unger, than who takes over in the middle of the offensive line? Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre started seven of the 10 games Unger missed because of injuries last season, and the Seahawks won all seven.

"We do have some experience there in our system," Carroll said. "We just hope to let the competition take over and show who's going to surface. We've got depth and we've got guys that we know can play."

And the Seahawks can always add to that competition in the draft or free agency.

The Seahawks also lost right guard and former first-round draft choice James Carpenter, who has agreed to sign with the New York Jets. If the team had a game this week, Alvin Bailey would step into the starting lineup for Carpenter. But as with the center position, the Seahawks can address adding competition at guard in the draft and free agency.

The addition of Williams, who was released last week by the Philadelphia Eagles, was imperative because the Eagles signed Byron Maxwell, the Seahawks' starting right cornerback since the end of the 2013 season. Williams, 30, comes with the attributes the Seahawks look for in corners – height (6-1), length and aggressiveness.

"When you watch him play against other teams big players last year, like Dez Bryant (of the Cowboys) and Odell Beckham (of the Giants), they moved him around the field and he played star coverage with them," Schneider said. "He was just intriguing. We're going to miss Maxie, but we had to be ready to go."

With Graham, the Seahawks were talking to the Saints in more general terms when the specifics turned to the opportunity to acquire a big target that has averaged 89 receptions, 1,099 receiving yards and 11.5 touchdown catches the past four seasons.

"It was no different than a regular call, and this was one of the players that was brought up and we continued to pursue it," Schneider said.

Graham brings an element that has been missing from the offense – a big, productive receiver, who also is athletic.

"The opportunity to get a player that can make these kinds of plays that we've seen Jimmy Graham do for a number of years really got us excited in complementing the rest of our team," Carroll said. "I think he's a fantastic target that we can implement in a number of ways. It's pretty clear that he's a big receiver, plays big, makes plays in a crowd, makes plays on top of guys, is a very effective player in the red area."

Ah, the red zone. It's inside the opponents' 20-yard line where Graham has been especially dangerous – and productive. Of his 10 TD receptions last season, nine came in the red zone – and the other was on a 22-yard reception. Of his career-high 16 TD catches in 2013, 11 came in the red zone. But he's far from a one-trick-pony of a receiver, as Graham also had scoring receptions of 56, 51, 44 and 43 yards that season.

"He's a got a real sense for finishing plays," said Carroll, who also credited Graham's success in the red zone to his size and basketball background. "He's just a fantastic talent and a great weapon for us. We're always going to be running the football, but we need those targets and he brings us an obvious opportunity to get the ball in the end zone.

"This is a fantastic job that John has done to get this done. It's so rare that you get opportunities to get this kind of a player."

The Seahawks acquired Pro Bowl/All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham in a trade with the New Orleans Saints.

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