Sources: Falcons, 'Hawks nailing down Abraham deal

Updated: March 17, 2006, 5:53 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- In their marathon pursuit of New York Jets three-time Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham, the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks have each reached the halfway point of the grueling race.

Defensive End
New York Jets

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
58 44 14 6 11 0

But they are different halves and, unfortunately for both suitors, they're still a long way from the finish line in trying to land Abraham.

The Falcons on Friday reached an agreement with Abraham on a multi-year contract, a high-ranking team official and several league sources confirmed. The next step: Reaching a trade agreement with the Jets on appropriate compensation for the standout defender.

Seattle, conversely, has finished the second half of the equation, but not the first. Sources involved in the trade negotiations confirmed Friday evening that the Seahawks and Jets have agreed on a compensation package, but that Seattle has not reached an accord with Abraham on a contract. As part of the package, the Seahawks would surrender their first-round choice in the 2006 draft, the 31st pick overall.

The vexing problem is that, to secure Abraham, both halves of the puzzle must fit. The team that acquires Abraham must satisfy his contract demands and also the Jets' compensation desires. And neither Atlanta nor Seattle has been able to pull together both elements yet.

Clearly, though, the Falcons feel they can complete the deal. In fact, team officials indicated Friday they are confident that Abraham will land in Atlanta, to lend energy and a consistent weakside pass-rush threat to a defense that must improve for the Falcons to return to the playoffs.

Earlier on Friday, the Falcons reached a three-year, $6.01 million contract accord with unrestricted free agent safety Lawyer Milloy.

"We're very comfortable with where we are at [with Abraham], and we think he is comfortable, too," said one Atlanta official. "We've got a [contract] deal in place with him."

Abraham, 27, visited with Falcons officials and coaches on Thursday and Friday. He had a physical exam administered by the Falcons' medical staff on Friday morning. Obviously, given that the Falcons have a contract agreement in place with Abraham, he passed the exam.

The Jets had been seeking coveted backup quarterback Matt Schaub and a second-round draft choice for Abraham, but the Falcons balked at those terms. Atlanta has been steadfast in its resolve not to include Schaub or its first-round pick in the 2006 draft, the 15th selection overall, in any trade packages. Instead, the Falcons have countered with several formulas in an attempt to satisfy Jets officials.

Notable is that the Jets on Friday afternoon acquired Washington Redskins backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey for a sixth-round pick in this year's draft. The addition of Ramsey may have been a sign that the Jets are now convinced they won't be able to pry Schaub away from the Falcons in an Abraham deal. Discussions between the two teams continued through Friday afternoon.

It is not known if the Seahawks are in contract negotiations with Abraham and his representatives. The sense around the league is that Abraham and his agents will try to hold off Seattle and pressure the Jets into a deal with the Falcons.

The Seahawks, like the Falcons, must first satisfy Abraham on a long-term contract, and that might be a difficult proposition. Abraham, who makes his full-time home in nearby South Carolina, has indicated to friends and associates that he prefers to play in Atlanta, where he has family ties.

But there is this element as well: Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Eric Mangini are both rookies in their respective jobs. Their handling of the Abraham situation is viewed by some in New York as their first big test. And if it perceived that the Jets caved, as some observers feel they did when the club allowed coach Herm Edwards to depart to Kansas City, the public relations will be unfavorable.

The one possibility no one seems to be considering is that the Jets simply retain Abraham and allow the situation to play out over the coming months. There is certainly no urgency to deal Abraham now.

One of the NFL's premier outside rushers, Abraham was designated by the Jets as a franchise player for the second consecutive spring. That mean the Jets essentially made him a one-year qualifying offer of $8.33 million. 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.

In 16 games in 2005, Abraham 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.

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