ATLANTA -- Sometimes it takes the intervention of a third party to resolve a stalemate, and that was the case on Tuesday evening as the Atlanta Falcons finally reached agreement on the much-rumored trade for New York Jets defensive end and designated franchise player John Abraham.
To complete the trade, for which negotiations had been ongoing for more than a week, the Falcons enlisted the aid of the Denver Broncos, who, ironically, had once been interested in acquiring Abraham themselves before they determined that his contract demands were out of their price range.
Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowler, officially joined the Falcons
on Wednesday after the Jets officially signed off on the deal.
"This might be the easiest transition of my life," he said.
"It's not like I have to be the main guy. I'm just filling one of
the pieces to the puzzle."
With talks at an impasse, because the Jets refused to accept the second-round choice Atlanta had offered in this year's draft, and because New York actually had a better proposal from Seattle, the Falcons were forced to get creative to secure a player that they sorely coveted. And so the Falcons sweetened the pot, and trumped the first-round choice that the Seahawks had offered the Jets for Abraham, the 31st choice overall, by turning to some ingenuity.
And by turning, as well, to the Broncos as the crucial component in completing the convoluted trade triangle.
Atlanta sent its first-round choice, the 15th pick overall in this year's draft, to Denver, for the Broncos' first-round choice next month, No. 29 overall. The Falcons also picked up a pair of middle-round choices in the transaction, a third-round selection in 2006 and a fourth-rounder in 2007. The Falcons then shipped the 29th pick acquired from Denver to the Jets in exchange for Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher.
Such three-team deals, fairly common in the NBA, are very rare in the NFL.
The results of all the wheeling and dealing: The Falcons get Abraham, a third-round choice in 2006, and a fourth-round pick in 2007. Abraham gets a six-year contract that could be worth as much as $45 million. For surrendering two middle-round choices, the Broncos jump up 14 spots in the first round this year, a quantum leap up the draft board, and one which provides Denver great flexibility. And the Jets get a first-round choice, two spots higher than the one Seattle had offered, in exchange for a player who no longer wanted to be in New York and who the team didn't want around anymore.
Whether the deal is enough for the Jets to save face -- some will suggest they surrendered a proven pass-rusher, a tough commodity to find in the NFL, for too modest a price tag -- remains to be seen. And there will be questions about why the Jets felt compelled to make the deal Tuesday, instead of allowing the sometimes problematic Abraham to sweat a while longer. Published reports that the Jets faced a Friday deadline, because of the franchise tag, were erroneous, since the new extension to the collective bargaining agreement meant New York still had four months to resolve the Abraham standoff.
The battle of wits to see who would blink first in a three-way standoff actually began last Friday. That's when the Falcons reached an agreement in principle with Abraham on a contract, but could not get the Jets to swap the defensive end for a second-round choice. At the same time, Seattle cut a deal with the Jets, to send New York its first-round choice. But the Seahawks could not strike an accord with Abraham, who had determined that he wanted to play in Atlanta, because of its proximity to his home in South Carolina, and because he has a daughter there.
The vexing problem at the time was that the Falcons and Seattle each had a complete half of the two-part puzzle, but different halves, and that the Jets were hardening in their stance that they would not merely give Abraham away because he didn't want to play for them in 2006.
But there was 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 was viewed by some in New York as their first big test. And if it was 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 fallout would be unfavorable.
Abraham, 27, visited with Falcons officials and coaches last Thursday and Friday. He had a physical exam administered by the Falcons' medical staff on Friday morning.
Abraham wanted to be closer to his grandparents, mother and daughter, all of whom live in South Carolina.
"My family can come to the games without flying and without
missing work," he said.
At the outset of trade negotiations, 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 was 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. The Falcons had countered with several formulas in an attempt to satisfy Jets officials, and they finally reached that goal on Tuesday evening.
One of the NFL's premier outside rushers, Abraham was designated by the Jets as a franchise player for the second consecutive spring. That meant 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.
Given some of his past off-field issues, it will be interesting to see how Atlanta officials reconcile the use of their so-called "Falcons Filter," a term the team employs when judging a player's overall character and disposition.
The addition of Abraham not only strengthens the Atlanta defense in general but should catapult the team's front four into an elite status. The Falcons already have two Pro Bowl-caliber linemen in end Patrick Kerney and tackle Rod Coleman. In addition to Abraham, the Falcons added safeties Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker since last Friday, hoping to address the shortcomings of a defense that statistically rated 22nd in the league in 2005.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.