The Falcons have a big decision to make soon. They are going to have to decide if they want to retain the services of veteran defensive end John Abraham or let him go into free agency. Abraham is no doubt the biggest name on our defensive line and is the active NFL leader in career sacks at 112. Abraham has also come out and stated that he wants to be paid 12 million dollars per year. He believes he should be paid in the same neighborhood as the top defensive ends in the league. Should the Falcons agree to his terms or should they let him go to free agency and concentrate on drafting a defensive end or signing a younger defensive end in free agency?
Without a doubt, John Abraham is our best sack man. However, at 33 (he will turn 34 in May) Abraham is at an advanced age for a defensive end. This past season he managed to get 9.5 sacks, 3.5 of those sacks came in a game against a Jaguars team which boasts one of the worst offensive lines in the league. So if you take away that game Abraham had managed only 6 sacks over the other 15 games this season. In his Falcons career, which spans six seasons, Abraham has collected 59.5 sacks. During that span Abraham has only had 3 years of double digit sacks. His best year came 2008 when he collected 16.5 sacks. Since then, his only season with more than ten sacks was the 2010 season when he sacked opposing quarterbacks 13 times.
There is a major factor going against Abraham and that is the fact that he is always on a play count. That means he is taking many more plays off than most starting defensive ends. If Abraham wants to get paid the 12 million dollars a year he is requesting, which is a 50% bump from this season when he got paid 8 million dollars, then he needs to be able to play off a play count and be the intimidating defensive force that he believes he can be. Also, Abraham believes he is among the top tier in the league amongst defensive ends. I took a look at stats from this past season and Abraham was tied for 18th in the league in sacks. This is not a good bargaining point for Abraham going into free agency.
If the Falcons do decide to let him go, I personally do not see a huge downside. One, it will free up some cap space to re-sign Brent Grimes to a long-term deal. Two, it will leave some space for drafting a young defensive end to build around. Three, it could also leave some space to go after a younger free agent to replace him. All three of these possibilities lead me to believe that not re-signing Abraham will not hurt us in the long run.