How Much Does John Abraham Have Left in the Tank?

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How Much Does John Abraham Have Left in the Tank?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Despite a set of interesting tweets following his visit to the Tennessee Titans this past weekend, free-agent defensive end John Abraham is not retiring. 

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Dan Hanzus), Abraham sent the tweets out of "frustration" and there was "nothing to it."

However, Abraham has been unable to find a fit on the open market despite a 10-sack season in 2012, and his current unemployment status begs the question of how much NFL teams think the veteran has left in the tank. 

On Saturday, Abraham tweeted "Retiring 13" and "Done," suggesting that he may be hanging up the cleats after a 122-sack career. He has since deleted those comments. He also turned 35 on May 6.

Surface interest has come his way this offseason, as Rapoport reports that the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Titans have each kicked the tires on signing Abraham at various points. But nothing serious has materialized, and it appears there is a significant gap between how much NFL teams value Abraham and at what monetary point he values himself.

Age remains the most likely of dividing factors. 

Skills and physical attributes can regress at a high and unpredictable rate late in football careers, so it's impossible to know for certain where Abraham is at right now or where he will be September. Even after a 10-sack season, teams could be working out the veteran and finding he's lost another step.

While that is nothing more than speculation, we do have video and statistical evidence from last year—especially late in the year—to help put as accurate a value as we can on what Abraham has left as an NFL pass-rusher. 

Note: All screen shots taken from NFL Game Rewind.

 

The Good

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Abraham finished the 2012 season as the No. 5 overall 4-3 defensive end. His value to the Falcons defense came almost solely as a pass-rusher. With more than 740 regular-season snaps, Abraham was very productive in that role. He registered 10 sacks, eight quarterback hits and another 38 hurries, for a total of 56 quarterback disruptions. 

In the following screen shot, we see one of Abraham's pressures. 

With the Arizona Cardinals facing a third-and-short situation in Week 11, Abraham rushes the quarterback from the defense's right side (he can play either end). 

At the snap, Abraham beats the left tackle with speed to the outside shoulder. He then fights through a chip attempt from the running back, attacks back into the pocket and strips the quarterback just as he's attempting to deliver the football. The Falcons recovered the loose ball for a touchdown. 

Now in his mid-30s, Abraham won't always be able to rely on speed to beat opposing tackles. But unless his physical skills have deteriorated rapidly since the middle of last season, he's still able to provide an element of quickness and suddenness to the edge pass-rushing, especially against slow-footed tackles like the one shown in the screen grab. 

Abraham would finish the contest with four total quarterback disruptions. 

Quite possibly his best game of the 2012 season came at home against the New Orleans Saints in Week 13. 

Abraham produced a season-high nine quarterback disruptions, including six hurries. He also batted down two passes. 

In the provided screen shot, we see Abraham attacking Saints right tackle Zach Strief. It's 2nd-and-9 with the Falcons already up 17 points. 

Notice how Abraham dips to beat Strief on the edge. The very best pass-rushers in the professional game are able to use lateral agility and flexibility to find the fastest route to the quarterback. Abraham, even at his advanced age, accomplishes that here. 

After athletically dipping around Strief, Abraham is able to create separation as he turns the corner. Strief is able to only lunge at the pursuing Abraham, who is now in Drew Brees' back pocket and ready to either make the sack or cause a poor delivery. 

Brees is able to get the ball off before Abraham can close in and make the sack, but his rushed throw is off the mark to the boundary and is nearly intercepted by a Falcons defensive back. 

These are just two examples of how Abraham can still provide something to a 4-3 pass rush. If healthy, he has quickness to the edge and lateral ability to bend around tackles. If put on a snap count—like the Falcons did at times in 2012—he should be fresh enough throughout games to continue his disruptive ways.

However, Abraham didn't always show up on tape. And when he didn't, it was ugly. 

 

The Bad

Facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 of last season, Abraham suffered an ankle injury that would affect him throughout the postseason. 

He played just a handful of snaps against the Seattle Seahawks before exiting, only to return the next week and play most of the Falcons' defensive snaps against the San Francisco 49ers.

The results in the NFC Championship Game weren't pretty.

In the following screen shot, we see an attempted pass rush against 49ers left tackle Joe Staley. Abraham rushes from a two-point stance, but there's simply no explosion to win on the edge. 

Staley, a two-time All-Pro, has little trouble winning the battle on the outside. In fact, the result we see in the screen shot could be viewed over and over throughout the contest. The 49ers rarely helped Staley on the edge, but Abraham simply couldn't win any one-on-ones.

By the time the 49ers finished out the win, Abraham had totaled zero disruptions or tackles over 44 total snaps. He was a non-factor.

Certainly, his wounded ankle was partly to blame. And Staley's presence on the left side didn't help. But the Falcons likely looked at this game and decided it was time to get both younger and better in rushing the passer.

Overall, Atlanta had just four quarterback disruptions against Colin Kaepernick. That's not good enough. 

Production against the better tackles is only one part of equation. 

Entering his age-35 season, Abraham will likely need more and more snaps off in 2013. He played on roughly 70 percent of Atlanta's snaps last season, but that number is likely to go down in upcoming years.

He's also not a huge factor against the run, as evidenced by his 27 stops (or tackles constituting an offensive failure) in 2012. Twenty 4-3 defensive ends had more last season. 

 

Verdict

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Health will be a major factor for Abraham ahead of 2013.

Before his ankle injury, Abraham was a disruptive pass-rusher capable of getting to the quarterback in a multitude of ways. He's still athletic enough to win with speed, powerful enough to attack the point and agile enough to bend around the edge. 

However, he's becoming more and more limited in terms of snaps, and his late-season ankle injury sapped him of all of his effectiveness in getting to the quarterback.

Abraham is likely looking at his disruption numbers from last season and expecting a contract in the $4 million to $5 million range. NFL teams would have reason to balk at such a number. 

But in terms of what Abraham has left, it's clear he can be still be an effective edge-rusher for a defense who can afford to put him on a snap count. He's not running on empty, yet. 

Now, it's up to Abraham and a team to come together on a contract that works for both sides. Expect that scenario to become reality at some point this offseason.

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