Falcons and Abraham say they want each other

Both sides are saying that they want Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham to return next season, but, increasingly, the situation is looking as though the impending free agent will not be back.

On Wednesday, the NFL Network reported that Abraham’s agent said it looks as if he will not be re-signed before the NFL free-agency period is set to start on March 13.

Abraham, meanwhile, appeared on Atlanta radio station 790 The Zone to say that he wants to remain for a seventh season with the Falcons but that he would not take a hometown discount. Last season, Abraham earned $8 million, a number difficult to envision the Falcons paying him in 2012.

Abraham led the Falcons with 9.5 sacks last season, including 3.5 in one game, but missed a few games and had limited effectiveness in others because of hip and groin issues, which have dogged him throughout his career. He will be 34 next season.

On Thursday, Abraham tweeted, “Forever I love ATLANTA!!! No matter what” and also seemed to take exception that he was being greedy. He answered someone on Twitter who asked why he was going for the biggest contract available by saying, “in 6years have u every heard me (complain) about money (heck) no one even knew I was gona b a free agent til like now so now u saying I’m all about money wow.”

The Falcons have contracts on their books totaling about $100 million. If the salary cap is again about $120 million, the Falcons will not have a whole lot of room to pay Abraham if he expects to earn what he did last season.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was asked in a different show on Wednesday on 790, the team’s flagship radio broadcast partner, about the state of negotiations with both Abraham and starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who is considerably younger than Abraham. Lofton will be 26 in June.

“Curtis has done a nice job for us over the years,” Dimitroff said. “He’s been here since 2008, as you all know, and Curtis is a good football player with a presence on this team that is valued. So we appreciate that. Like John Abraham, they both contributed very well for us. And with Curtis, we’re in negotiations with him and his people, as well on other side with John, and we would like to have both of these gentlemen back.”

Perhaps, then, the Falcons and Abraham have agreed to let Abraham test the free-agent market to determine his value. The Falcons might have a number in mind that they would be willing to pay Abraham that is substantially lower than $8 million. If Abraham finds he can make more than the Falcons’ offer on the open market, he could be history. But if he finds the Falcons’ offer is as good as he’s going to get, perhaps he decides to stay.

“Those are difficult decisions,” Dimitroff said. ” . . . Listen, it can be complicated. These deals aren’t always that easy, but, again, we’re making every effort to make things happen and, hopefully, it will be right for both sides.”

The Falcons’ other major free agent is starting left cornerback Brent Grimes, who made $2.61 million last season. Speculation has surrounded whether the Falcons might use the franchise tag on Grimes, which would up his salary to about $10 million, eating up about half of the team’s current cap room.

Grimes, a Pro Bowl pick in 2010, likely is headed for a big payday, but the fact he did not suit up for the team’s playoff game against the New York Giants could complicate matters. In addition, the team’s other starting cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has a cap hit of $7.75 million this season, so the Falcons might be cautious about tying up so much money to two players at the same position.

Dimitroff and the rest of the Falcons’ coaching staff and front office is at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week. Without a first-round pick, the team will have to determine what its most urgent need is.

With Tony Gonzalez having said he thinks that 2012 will likely be his last season, the Falcons might have to use the pick on a tight end. But the pass rush and offensive line also are needs.

Dimitroff said that part of the process that he and his stuff will undertake is to scout the talent available at the combine, then look at who is available in free agency to see where they might use the pick and what needs they will choose to fill via free agency.

“All that information we have been discussing — free agents, potential free agents, availability — and then we talk about where the draft is and where the strengths are in the draft,” he said. “After the combine, we truly decide where we’re going to be aggressive and within our team where we’re going to be aggressive, as well.”

The next few weeks will bring decision time.