When Seattle traded center Max Unger to the New Orleans saints in 2015 for tight end Jimmy Graham, the move was met with mixed reactions.
Graham, who had become a star receiving target for quarterback Drew Brees with the Saints, seemed like he would become a deadly weapon for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, as well. But, at the same time, many wondered if that would matter if the Seahawks' offensive line suffered with the loss of Unger.
Well, the line did suffer, and in the end, Graham's contributions in Seattle, although strong (2,048 yards, 18 touchdowns in three seasons) on the receiving end, were negatively offset by his lack of run-blocking ability. The football world should always view the Unger-for-Graham deal as one of the greatest examples of how the flash and sexiness of an offensive weapon can prove to be no match for the grit and heart of an offensive line that makes everything go.
This week, Unger, drafted by the Seahawks out of Oregon in the second round in 2009, called it a career. His run should be regarded as one of the greatest ever put forth by a former Oregon offensive linemen. He's easily the best center to ever come out of UO. The gold standard for NFL offensive linemen out of Oregon is Gary Zimmerman, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
During Unger's 10 years (four in New Orleans), Unger made it to three Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro in 2012 with Seattle, appeared in two Super Bowls with the Seahawks and won one following the 2013 season.
Just 32, Unger told reporters that his ailing body told him to retire.
“At the end of the day, I guess I’m retiring because I didn’t think I could make it through another season," Unger said. "I’ve got some health issues and you kind of evaluate how you’re playing and where you see life after football going. And I just made the decision to retire."
Unger explained that he has some "lower body" issues that made it difficult for him to get into his stance and would require surgery. That process, he said, would take most of the offseason so he decided that it's simply time for him to leave the game.
“Just looking back, I’m getting older,” he said. “There’s no way for me to replicate the play of me five years ago, or a couple of years ago, and that’s just the reality of life. And that’s a tough pill to swallow, too. But that factors in. Was I playing bad? No. Was I playing up to my standard? I don’t think so, either. So that was a factor.”
Sorry to see Unger go is Brees, who posted the following on Instagram: "I had the great honor of playing 62 games with Max Unger as my center. There is no better teammate or leader. I’m going to miss you brother."
The deal worked out well for the Saints, who in the process also got a first-round pick from Seattle, making the exchange highway robbery. The move, Unger said, surprised him when it happened.
“I was not expecting to be traded,” he said. “I loved my time in Seattle, I liked living up there, I was close to a lot of things. It was a good setup for me. And then I got traded down here, I’d never lived in the South, I’d only really ever lived on the West coast. Get down here, new city, new team, new system – it was hard. And then we kind of got into it. And it ended up working out.”
With his career over, Unger said he is looking forward to the next chapter in his life.
“It’s not easy," he said. "This is obviously not…it’s not easy. There’s a lot of very close relationships and guys that I have a lot of respect for, and to have to call them and tell them this, it’s tough. But the last month, I think I came to the realization that I was done.”