ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons are working hard to assemble the appropriate pieces of a trade package intended to lure prized defensive end John Abraham from the New York Jets, ESPN and ESPN.com have confirmed through league sources.
One significant road bump to a deal that, despite ongoing efforts from both sides, remains a long shot: The Falcons steadfastly refuse to include two-year veteran quarterback Matt Schaub, the player Jets officials regard as the centerpiece to any deal, in their trade proposals.
It is believed the Jets are seeking Schaub and the Falcons' second-round draft pick for Abraham.
Without the inclusion of Schaub, the backup to Michael Vick and a youngster whose résumé includes just two regular-season starts, the swap might never be consummated. But Atlanta in particular continues to pursue it and hopes to craft a package that might attract the Jets, but without having to surrender Schaub or the Falcons' first-round draft choice, the 15th overall selection in the lottery.
"There have been discussions, as in plural, but I don't know that it will happen," said one team official. "But [the two teams] are still plugging away."
That said, neither club seems prepared yet to end the talks, in part because the Falcons covet Abraham and because New York is determined to trade the veteran end, designated by the Jets as their franchise player for a second consecutive year.
Despite the speculation that the Jets will use the fourth overall pick on April 29 to choose one of the three highly regarded quarterback prospects in the 2006 draft, New York has apparently targeted Schaub as the young passer it really wants to land. The Jets recently restructured the contract of starting quarterback Chad Pennington to keep from having to release him for cap reasons. But uncertainty still surrounds Pennington, who had surgery in October to repair a torn right rotator cuff, his second such procedure in eight months.
Because of the Pennington situation, the Jets are seeking a younger player, one with starting potential.
A third-round draft choice in 2004, Schaub is highly regarded around the NFL and by Atlanta officials. The former University of Virginia standout has played in 11 games in two seasons, two of them starts, and has completed 66 of 134 attempts for 825 yards, with five touchdown passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 68.8.
Schaub, 24, lost both his starts. But in a 31-28 loss to New England last Oct. 9 at the Georgia Dome, he threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns in an impressive outing. The defensive coordinator for New England in that game was Eric Mangini, who is the Jets' new head coach, and who obviously liked what he saw of Schaub that day.
Falcons officials are reluctant to part with Schaub for at least two reasons: First, they consider him a quality player and an eventual starter in the league. Second, team officials realize that Vick's derring-do style will always make him susceptible to injuries, and that Atlanta needs a solid backup capable of possibly starting a few games every season. The Falcons consider Schaub ideal for that role.
"We like [Schaub] and he plays a very important position," Falcons team president Rich McKay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week. "From our position, what it would take [to surrender Schaub in a trade] would have to be very strong."
That said, the Falcons would love to land Abraham, a high-energy defender who is viewed as one of the NFL's premier outside pass rushers. And whether New York deals Abraham to Atlanta or some other club, it's clear the six-year veteran will not be back with the Jets in 2006.
Abraham visited with Washington officials over the weekend and was set to be in Seattle for a Wednesday visit. It was announced last week that Abraham would meet with four teams, and Atlanta is believed to be among them.
The Jets last month 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 the offseason programs and training camp before signing the one-year deal, worth $6.66 million just days before the start of the season.
Abraham has been saying for two years that he prefers a long-term contract but the two sides have not been able to strike a satisfactory deal. Any team that trades for Abraham will have to first reach agreement with him on a long-term contract. The Falcons have some history in trading for franchise players, having acquired franchise wide receiver Peerless Price from Buffalo in 2003 after reaching a long-term accord that included a $10 million signing bonus.
The Falcons also have a history in dealing with Abraham's agent, Tony Agnone, who represents Atlanta standout left defensive end Patrick Kerney. Teaming Kerney and Abraham would give the Falcons a terrific defensive end tandem.
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, a three-time Pro Bowl performer, 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, 10˝ sacks, six forced fumbles, one recovery and two passes defensed. For his career, the former South Carolina star has 328 tackles, 53˝ sacks, 18 forced fumbles, five recoveries and eight pass deflections in 73 games.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. ESPN's Chris Mortensen is a regular contributor to Insider. He chats every Wednesday in The Show.