Despite limited role, Bears' Jimmy Graham finding joy as leader, mentor


LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- At the height of his career, Jimmy Graham was one of the most dominant tight ends the NFL has ever seen.

“I was kind of a savage,” Graham said. “That was kind of the way I played. That was back before the taunting rules. I taunted with the best of them.”

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Graham is a five-time Pro Bowler who has the seventh-most receptions and the fourth-most touchdowns of any tight end in NFL history. Whenever he decides to retire, he'll deserve consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

These days, the 34-year-old Graham is playing a minimal role on the field for the Bears, with just two receptions and no touchdowns this season. He did have a score negated by a penalty during the Bears' loss to the Steelers on Nov. 8. Graham had eight touchdowns while filling a key role for the Bears as a red-zone target in 2020.

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Graham now seems like a forgotten piece in the Bears’ offense. He explained it’s “different,” but he isn’t getting frustrated. Instead, Graham is content with his place on the team, as he's finding joy in those around him.

“I celebrate each and every guy’s success on this team," Graham said. "Because I was there. I had many helping hands to get me where I am today, going all the way back – Sean (Payton), Drew (Brees), David Thomas, Jeremy Shockey. I mean, the list goes on and on. Marques Coleston. I had these guys prepping me when I was a young kid who knew nothing about the game and nothing about life. They got me to be an All-Pro player. That’s my role right now. I take that on. It’s something that I didn’t think I’d be -- the old man ever in the locker room -- but here I am.

“When you’re able to then put this knowledge, route running, what I know about defenses and help out guys, it makes it fun. It makes every week fun. Especially when you got young guys who want to listen.”

In particular, Graham has been a mentor for Bears second-year tight end Cole Kmet, who has accounted for most of the team's production at the position. Kmet once owned a Graham jersey while growing up aspiring to be an NFL tight end, and now he's learning from him.

Graham's perspective changed in 2015, when he suffered a knee injury while playing for the Seahawks. Forced to the sideline and left to wonder how he would recover, Graham started viewing his role differently.

Twelve years in to a tremendous career, Graham is happy seeing others enjoy the same success that he has previously had.

“We are all very competitive human beings,” he said. “For me, it takes a big pill to humble yourself and realize where you are in your career and how you can be useful.

“We have guys that are hungry to learn, hungry to make their mark on this league, for the franchise.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.