Upset at having been tagged as a franchise player for a second straight year, New York Jets defensive end John Abraham told the New York Post over the weekend that he has "overstayed [his] welcome" with the club and that "it's time to move on."
Team officials and his agent apparently agree.
Agent Tony Agnone said Thursday he doesn't expect his client to be with the Jets this year. Abraham is the Jets franchise player for a second consecutive year.
"Right now we are in the process of not only looking at the Jets, but we are also looking at the possibility of a trade," Agnone said. "We are exploring other possibilities along with the Jets. We feel John probably will not be back in New York."
Agnone has tried to contact every team in the league and there are four or five teams showing serious interest, but he has not started negotiations with those teams.
Multiple league sources said that the Jets have been offering Abraham in trade talks during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, and have discussed potential scenarios with a number of teams. It is believed that the talks have not moved to the substantive stage with any suitors and that a deal is not imminent, but that the Jets' intention remains to deal Abraham, probably for a package of draft choices.
In a move that had been anticipated, the Jets last week designated Abraham a franchise player, essentially making him a one-year qualifying offer of $8.33 million, but also severely limiting his mobility in free agency. New York used the franchise tag a year ago, as well, to retain Abraham, and he missed all the offseason programs and training camp before signing the one-year deal, worth $6.66 million just days before the start of the season.
The team's rationale in using the franchise restriction this year, however, seems aimed at trying to fetch something in return for Abraham, who prefers a long-term contract. In a statement, new Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said last week that applying the franchise tag to Abraham "speaks volumes about what type of player we feel he is." That has not kept the Jets, though, from speaking to other teams about the six-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowl performer.
It is not known what the Jets are seeking in return for Abraham, but any trade would certainly have to include a first-round draft choice. Abraham might be able to force the hand of the cap-strapped Jets by signing the qualifying offer, which would guarantee the money. The $8.33 million already counts against the New York cap for 2006, but guaranteeing the money might be a tough swallow for a club facing a major overhaul because of a debilitating cap overage.
Without specifically citing Abraham, Denver defensive coordinator Larry Coyer allowed at the combine that the Broncos hope to add a pass-rusher in the offseason. Despite statistically ranking No. 15 in total defense in 2005, the Broncos were 29th in defense versus the pass, and a big part of that was that Denver generated just 28 sacks, third fewest in the league. No Broncos defender had more than four sacks in 2005.
"I know this about [head coach] Mike Shanahan," said Coyer. "There will be a move."
Washington, which was said to be enamored with Abraham a year ago, also needs a consistent upfield pass-rush threat. Although the Redskins had 35 sacks in 2005, the lack of a pass rusher means that inventive defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has to work that much harder to create sack opportunities. The only Redskins defensive lineman with more than four sacks last season was end Phillip Daniels, but six of his eight sacks came in the final three games, including a four-sack performance.
One problem shared by both Denver and Washington is the state of their respective salary caps. Both teams are squeezed by the spending limit and, like other franchises around the league, are reluctant to make any kind of move until the NFL's collective bargaining issues are resolved. Plus, since he is not under contract, Abraham cannot be dealt until he either signs the one-year qualifying offer or a long-term contract.
Termed by Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel as "head and shoulders" above any pass rusher available this offseason, Abraham certainly is a proven sack man. One of the Jets' four first-round selections in the 2000 draft, Abraham has consistently been among the top pass rushers in the NFL, when healthy. Limited to just 19 appearances in 2003-2004 because of injuries, Abraham played in all 16 games for the Jets in 2005, only the third time in six years he has played a full schedule.
He registered 67 tackles, 10½ sacks, six forced fumbles, one recovery and two passes defensed. For his career, the former South Carolina star has 328 tackles, 53½ sacks, 18 forced fumbles, five recoveries and eight pass deflections in 73 games. Players of his ilk don't often become available in the league, but the relationship between Abraham and Jets officials may have reached the point where a trade would be the best scenario for both parties.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. John Clayton contributed to this report.