But injuries to both of the Cardinals’ starting outside linebackers thrust Abraham into the role of an every-down player.
It’s a job he embraced as a chance to show he’s still got it.
Last week against Seattle, he provided the evidence, twice jarring the ball from quarterback Russell Wilson to force a turnover.
Now Abraham, the NFL’s active career leader in sacks with 124 and forced fumbles with 46, faces his former team, the Atlanta Falcons.
Abraham spent seven highly productive seasons with Atlanta before he was let go in the offseason, as is often the case in the NFL, for someone younger and cheaper.
“I just hope I go to the right sideline,” he joked.
The Falcons cut Abraham on March 5, saving a reported $5.5 million.
He acknowledged he was disappointed with the way it ended.
“But at the same time it’s a business thing,” Abraham said. “I’ve moved on and I’m here now. I wanted to end my career there. ... It hurt when it happened but now I’m OK.”
“It will be different” facing Abraham, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said.
“Because we know how great of a player he is,” Ryan said. “He’s really playing well this year, had a really good game against Seattle, played a lot of snaps. He was a great teammate when he was here in Atlanta, and certainly I enjoyed my time with him. He made a ton of plays for us throughout most of my career.”
It’s not like his performance dropped off in Atlanta. Last season, he had 10 sacks and a career-best and franchise-record six forced fumbles.
Although he will be zeroing in on Ryan, who has been sacked just eight times in six games, Abraham expresses no ill will toward his old quarterback, or any quarterback for that matter.
“Everybody asks me about the quarterbacks,” Abraham said. “I love them. That’s the reason I get paid. I just don’t like the guys in front of him, the tight end, the tackles.”
Abraham was out of work for four months before the Cardinals signed him to a two-year contract.
The idea was to use him as a pass-rushing specialist, only on obvious passing situations.
Abraham went along but wasn’t keen on the role.
He would much rather be out there every down.
“You can make a big play on the first play. You never know,” Abraham said. “If you’re sitting on the bench, you can’t do nothing. I’m a team player but I don’t want to be on the bench.”
His chance to be more than a part-time player came when both starting outside linebackers — Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander — went down with season-ending injuries the third week of the season.
“I’m not happy how it turned out,” Abraham said. “I hate seeing people get hurt. But I’m glad I got a chance to start. I’m an all-time player. I can play anytime you put me on the field. I’m glad I showed I still can play at this stage, at this tenure in my career.”
Abraham got off to a slow start to the season but his play picked up when he got the starting job.
“He’s doing a great job of taking care of his body,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “The extra load, 20 snaps a game, he’s handled really well. Actually, he’s played better. It’s helping him get into a good flow.”
Abraham didn’t have a sack this season until he twice burst through to knock the ball loose from Russell deep in Seattle territory.
Arians called it “the best game he’s played since he’s been here, run and pass.”
Abraham doesn’t believe he has anything to prove to the Falcons.
“I think I’ve proved it over 14 years,” he said. “I played seven years for them so they know what I got. I’m trying to show Arizona I’ve got something. I’m mad it took so long to show up.”
NOTES: Four Arizona players did not practice Wednesday: G Daryn Colledge (back), RB Rashard Mendenhall (toe), OLB Matt Shaughnessy (knee), G Earl Watford (knee). ... Arians said Watford was hurt in a car accident on the way to the team facility on Tuesday.