Why Can't Free Agent DE John Abraham Find a Job?

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Why Can't Free Agent DE John Abraham Find a Job?

We are now less than three weeks from the first preseason game of the 2013 NFL season between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. 

Why hasn't defensive end John Abraham found a job at this point? Here is a four-time Pro Bowl performer, who recorded 10 sacks for the Atlanta Falcons last season. The former first-round pick has also recorded double-digit sacks six different times in his successful 13-year career. 

It might be hard to pinpoint exactly why Abraham still finds himself in line waiting for a job, but that's what I plan to answer this morning. 

Three contending teams, the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, all had Abraham in for visits during the early stages of the offseason. He was later linked via The Denver Post to the Denver Broncos, who have since added another veteran pass-rusher

While Abraham would have been considered a solid addition to each of these teams, they all decided in the end to look in another direction.

Seattle signed Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency shortly after visiting with Abraham. Meanwhile, San Francisco decided to go the draft route and selected former Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine a month later.

What was the hiccup between Abraham and these three contending teams?

On the surface, it appears like money might have played a big role in his decision not to sign with Seattle and San Francisco.

San Francisco's philosophy in free agency is relatively simple but may rub potential targets the wrong way. It places a value on specific free-agent options and rarely deviates from the figure it initially places on the prospect. This means that the figure general manager Trent Baalke and Co. come up with prior to meeting with a free agent doesn't change once the two sides have met. 

For a lack of a better word, "negotiation" really isn't in the 49ers vocabulary when it comes to free agency. Without getting into too much detail whether this will serve them well moving forward, it has worked out over the past couple seasons.

As it relates to the Seahawks, they decided to go in another direction with younger, higher-upside options.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Seattle's deal with Cliff Avril represented more value than possibly signing Abraham.

Avril, a 27-year-old defensive end who has recorded 20 sacks over the past two seasons, signed a cap-friendly two-year, $13 million contract with Seattle.

Bennett, who is also 27 years old, signed a miniscule one-year, $4.8 million contract with the Seahawks as well. He is recovering from a torn rotator cuff and could possibly be limited early in the season. He did, however, record nine sacks for Tampa Bay last season. 

Seahawks general manager John Schneider scored big time with these two players. Why would he throw $5 million per season to a 35-year-old defensive end if he can sign Bennett and Avril to the deals they received?

This brings me to my first point.

Abraham simply values himself more than teams around the NFL do. He has it in his head that he is worth more than what potential suitors are willing to dole out for someone in the back end of his career.

While experience is important, teams are always looking to get younger and more athletic on the defensive side of the ball. This is a primary reason that New England, Seattle and San Francisco all passed up on Abraham. 

You then need to look at where each team that might be interested in Abraham stands as it relates to the salary cap, via Overthecap.com

 

Team Cap Room 
San Francisco 49ers $5.436 Million 
New England Patriots $9.215 Million 
Denver Broncos $10.188 Million 
Seattle Seahawks $3.712 Million
Atlanta Falcons $6.299 Million

 

Each of these teams can afford to bring Abraham on if his asking price is indeed around $5 million per season. 

The issue here is that none of these teams seem willing to give Abraham that type of contract, especially at the cost of their salary-cap flexibility moving forward. 

All these teams that have shown interest in Abraham also have to worry about contract extensions and their long-term cap health. As contending teams, they're going to have to think about locking up the players who have made them so successful over the past couple seasons. 

Here are just a few names set to become free agents from the aforementioned teams in the next couple seasons. 

 

Player Team Position Contract Year
Matt Ryan Atlanta Quarterback 2013
Julio Jones Atlanta Wide Receiver 2014
Roddy White Atlanta Wide Receiver 2014
Von Miller Denver Linebacker 2014
Demaryius Thomas Denver Wide Receiver 2014
Stevan Ridley New England Running Back 2014
Aldon Smith San Francisco  Linebacker 2014
Colin Kaepernick San Francisco  Quarterback 2014
Earl Thomas Seattle Safety 2014

 

It makes no sense to commit to a multi-year contract on an aging defensive end if it is going to handcuff you from a salary-cap standpoint. This is only magnified when some of the best young players on your team are set for extensions in the not-so-distant future. 

Teams that possess the most cap room in the NFL at this point either haven't show interest in Abraham or are not going to be contending for a championship anytime soon. 

The contract demands are just too ridiculous for contenting teams to deal with, while those on the bottom of the barrel don't seem like attractive destinations for Abraham.

Those teams with a lot of cap room include the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills. Out of that group, only Cincinnati seems like clear favorites to earn a postseason berth this season. 

Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post filed the following report back in late May: 

Abraham has said publicly, during an appearance on a nationally-syndicated radio show, he wanted $12 million per year on a multi-year deal and that even if he was playing "terrible" he would want a $5 million per year deal.

That's just plain ridiculous for someone Abraham's age. As I indicated earlier, no contender in its right mind would assume a contract like that. 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Simply put, Abraham isn't worth the money he is demanding.

Legwold went on to indicate that playing time might also be playing a role in Abraham's now lengthy unemployment stint: 

Abraham and his representatives, however, had told at least one team the player hoped to be on the field for at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps in the coming season, something he didn't even reach with the Falcons last season.

No contending team possesses the ability to give Abraham a guarantee as it relates to playing time. 

San Francisco has two of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the form of Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. As I touched on earlier, it also spent a second-round pick on Cornellius Carradine in April. 

Seattle's defensive line is stacked with talent and depth. Avril and Bennett join the likes of Red Bryant and Bruce Irvin to form a formidable unit. 

Meanwhile, New England seems set with a rotation that includes Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich and Jake Bequette, among others. 

Denver was a real possibility until it signed Shaun Phillips to a one-year contract back in April. 

Options for Abraham are becoming severely limited at this late point in the offseason. 

The Tennessee Titans might not fit the mold of being a true contender this season, but they did meet with Abraham. According to various reports, those talks really haven't taken off. 

Meanwhile, Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported late last month that the chances of Abraham returning to the Falcons are not good. 

It’s extremely unlikely the two sides (Atlanta and Abraham) are going to come to an agreement at this point – general manager Thomas Dimitroff said as much a few weeks ago – but I’ve seen worse contract situations between teams and players eventually reach a positive resolution. 

With Atlanta turning its attention to a contract extension for franchise quarterback Matt Ryan and having already added a veteran defensive end in the form of Osi Umenyiora, it's unlikely Abraham will return to the city he called home over the past seven seasons.

There is one more important thing to look at when drawing a conclusion as to why Abraham is still unemployed. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Abraham graded out as the fifth-best overall 4-3 defensive end in the NFL last season. 

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That's extremely important to note because Atlanta's defense fell off the cliff in the second half of the NFC Championship game against San Francisco with Abraham sidelined due to injury. 

His importance to Atlanta's success over the past few seasons simply cannot be overlooked. 

That being said, he put up a negative grade in terms of pass rush in five of his final six games last season. This is a huge red flag for teams looking to take on a 35-year-old defensive end, who might be regressing a great deal at this point in his career. 

Will Abraham find himself on a roster when training camp starts in a couple weeks? If I were a betting man, I'd say he won't. This wouldn't be a huge deal, as most veterans would be more than happy with taking the first week or so of training camp off. 

However, a few things will have to happen if Abraham is to find himself on an opening day roster. 

1. He will have to lower what seem to be ridiculous contract demands. 

2. He will have to lower his expectations as they relate to playing time. 

3. An injury to an in-house veteran could open the door for Abraham. 

4. He decides that money is more important than contention and opens his options to lesser teams. 

If one of these four things does happen, Abraham will find himself employed again. If not, we might have seen the last of the former Pro Bowl defensive end. 

 

*All contract information provided by Spotrac

 

Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.

 

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