When the team released John Abraham after the loss in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, most fans thought it was a money issue. It had all been seen before. The team releases “The Predator”, as he had been dubbed by fans, and then after a few tense months, he comes back at a reasonable price on a short-term contract.
Mr. Abraham is the NFL’s active leader in sacks, and to not bring him back would be madness. Yet this year the team meant it when they released him. Most fans couldn’t believe it was for real this time. Some fans still don’t. The NFL is a crazy place and the offseason isn’t over at this point, so there still is the possibility… but by this point in time if there were contract negotiations, they haven’t gone too well.
The team was throwing quotes around about being too old, and not having enough gas left in the tank at the end of the season to make that strong push in the post-season. The team was right and the older players on the team did look gassed in the playoffs. Even with all this in mind, could Abraham be replaced?
That was the issue that most fans couldn’t see past. John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux were responsible for just under 50% of all sacks recorded since 2007. That is a staggering statistic, but most true fans would tell you it is not surprising. Whether it was the scheme or how the team was utilizing individual players the reason seemed to be enigmatic. The only thing any fan could say three months ago is that they–or maybe I should say we–have an unshakeable trust in the front office on Flowery Branch. Well, we waited and the team gave us their answer.
The answer came in the form of the name, Osi Umenyiora.
By the time the signing happened, it really wasn’t too much of a surprise. The rumor mill had been very busy on the subject for about a week. The day or two before the actual signing it was nothing more than a waiting game. Once it happened, the debate started again.
Why get rid of Abraham because of his age and bring in a player only three years his junior? Osi statistically seemed to be almost a mirror image of Abraham. Abraham has 19.5 sacks in the past two seasons while Osi has 15. Abraham has averaged a sack every 70.5 snaps while Osi has averaged one every 71.2 snaps. Both are seen as pure pass rushers, but in all actuality Osi is slightly better at stopping the run with 24 tackles as opposed to Abraham’s 21. Other than that the team gave us limes and seemed to get rid of lemons.
But let’s take a closer look and see what might be the real reasons for the swap.
John Abraham was undoubtedly a leader in the locker room. He was reportedly beloved by his teammates. So what can Osi bring to the locker room that John couldn’t?
One obvious answer would be not mental but physical, and it’s not what you are thinking. Osi can literally carry in his two Super Bowl rings. Sadly Abraham hadn’t won one yet. Osi had been through a couple rough Super Bowl runs with the Giants. Both times going into the big game as an underdog to the ever-present New England Patriots and both times surprising the league with an exciting win. He also has something only a new player can have in that he has a fresh set of eyes. Osi is the new guy, but he is also a veteran.
He has seen countless young players come and go from the league, but only Osi has seen a true juggernaut of a defensive end emerge alongside of him. Osi helped mentor one of the most feared defensive ends in the league today, a mister Jason Pierre-Paul. I am not saying Osi is the reason JPP became the player he is today, but I am saying you cannot deny that he has at least a small part in JPP’s progression as a player.
Osi has also been limited in his snap counts in recent years because of JPP’s emergence. He may not be young anymore but he has a little more tread left on his tires than his age implies. These may not be huge factors to most teams, but to a team that came 10 yards shy of a Super Bowl, it may be all they really needed, a savvy veteran who knows how to get it done.
The Atlanta coaching staff was given two new young defensive ends during the draft. Counting Osi that makes three new defensive ends in one offseason. There is no denying that this team plans on fixing its pass rushing woes, come hell or high water. As stated earlier Osi has seen and helped bring about a great defensive end before. Can he do it again? Hopefully he can.
Another thought to keep in mind would be how much Maliciah Goodman is built like Jason Pierre-Paul. Both have freakish long arms and huge hands. Both can play either defensive end or defensive tackle. Both have or had Osi to help mentor them while they were or are learning the ropes in the league.
Let us not forget the other defensive end the team brought in just one round later, Mr. Stansly Maponga. Maponga is an interesting story but also an interesting player. In watching his highlights, this author’s personal opinion was that he reminds me of none other than John Abraham, but he has been connected with the likes of Charles Johnson from Carolina and Elvis Dumervil from Baltimore. Both of these players should benefit greatly from Osi’s presence, and if nothing else they should be able to see a Super Bowl ring in person, on the person who earned it.
In the end, there is an argument for either side of the story. Osi may very well have been nothing more than a swap in talent for John Abraham. Osi may not add up to anything other than the next lonely pass rushing defensive end on a team that hasn’t had one outside of “The Predator” since 2006. Of course, if Osi can get some of these younger players to buy into what he is saying, then we may have just acquired what the military might call a “force multiplier”. Osi might be able to turn his lonely days into a three’s a crowd situation. In any case I am willing to let this one play out and just hold onto my faith in this team and Osi himself.