Commentary

It adds up: Terrell Owens will play

Doesn't matter that no NFL scouts showed up for his workout. They'll come calling.

Originally Published: October 26, 2011
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

For a guy with no discernible suitors, Terrell Owens seems busy enough. He ran a workout session Tuesday in Southern California before a crowd of "How soon can you get here?" It looked sort of lonely, and, not that I'm the first one to mention it, you half-expected T.O. to turn to the video camera at some point and ask, "How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?"

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicComes a time in the NFL season, and it'll happen soon, when Terrell Owens' baggage will be worth a contract to a team.

But the beauty of pro sports often lies in its subterfuge, and it says here that NFL teams stayed away from Calabasas because they didn't want to answer a bunch of questions about things Owens said or did five years ago, or to have anyone confuse looking with buying. With ESPN and the NFL Network both on hand, scouts and GMs were able to see everything they needed to see without leaving their cubicles.

What they saw: An older Owens, working on a repaired knee.

With plenty left in the tank.

Terrell Owens might be a pain, but he's a pain who is not so far away from being signed by one of the multitude of no-shows at Tuesday's staged event. The truth of this season in Tha League is that "lousy" is a most relative term, and even a team that's down a bunch after seven weeks is not necessarily out of the hunt.

And that's where Owens fits in -- quite nicely, actually. Give it a couple of weeks, and let one of these teams -- the Titans, the Texans, the Raiders, etc. -- either begin to wonder whether it might make the playoffs or start worrying that it's about to fall out of contention. At that point, T.O. won't look like a controversy nearly so much as a short-term answer.

And that's it, essentially. That's the equation. Some team is going to need Owens more than it's worried about him. It's football math.

Every question about Owens, by the way, is one he has earned, either by saying ridiculous things, turning on a teammate, displaying some erratic behavior (what was that "rushed to the hospital" report about earlier this month, anyway?) or undergoing surgery to repair his left knee. It's all valid enough.

Eventually, though, some enterprising coach or GM is going to look at his roster, look at Owens and quite rightly conclude, "He's still better than most of our guys." At that point, T.O. and agent Drew Rosenhaus will be given another opportunity not to screw things up, to sign a reasonable part-season contract, and to audition for the receiver's future (that is, assuming he means it when he says he'd like to play another couple of years).

It isn't likely to be a totally clean transaction, but it'll get done. Owens, who is 37, comes with baggage, although I'd argue that not much about the last couple of seasons -- one in Buffalo, one in Cincinnati -- precisely screams trouble. At both stops, Owens was himself (read: loud) without any dramatic consequence. He averaged 15.1 yards per catch in Buffalo and went for nine TDs in 14 games with the screwed-up Bengals.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
AP Photo/David KohlT.O. caught nine touchdown passes for the Bengals last year. That'll be worth something to a team this season.

Predictably, perhaps, the NFL cognoscente is no more unified on Owens than fandom at large is. A couple of the experts who saw the Tuesday workout pronounced T.O. done as a player. Others, including ESPN's Jerry Rice, suggested that Owens "without a doubt" will get a chance from some team or other.

Former coach Brian Billick threw out the Raiders and the Titans as two teams likely to at least want to take a long look. (The Raiders have quality young receivers, but Owens caught balls from Carson Palmer during the players' concurrent down times recently.) Several national writers hurried up to include the Texans, who are struggling at receiver in the post-Andre Johnson phase of the season.

And they're just getting started. Owens had it right when he said, "I only need one team." He'll get it. Tuesday was a snapshot, nothing more. Draw no overarching conclusions. He looked closer to NFL ready, which is not the same as being NFL ready -- but based on the quality of play around the league coming out of the lockout, "closer" is the most encouraging word anyone could hear.

Ultimately, T.O.'s baggage gets outweighed by some team's desperate need. That's the math.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Voodoo Wave," is in international release. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named a Top 10 Sports Book by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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