Friday, July 29, 2005 Updated: August 3, 10:40 AM ET
Kick T.O. out of the nest
By Skip Bayless Page 2
So Philadelphia Eagles management has proved to be harder of nose than the toughest Eagle of 'em all, Chuck Bednarik.
Eagles management has effectively given Terrell Owens an old-school forearm shiver right in the big mouth. The message: Shut up and play for the remaining six years on the contract you signed, pal.
Terrell may have the flash and the talent ... but that's no reason to keep him.
As a prominent agent told me the other night: "The Eagles have all the leverage here."
Uh, think again.
If big, bad Eagles management thinks it is teaching this guy a lesson, the owner and general manager and coach haven't learned their lesson. Forcing him to play without improving his deal will be a disastrous victory. Win the battle, lose the war.
As long as Owens remains an Eagle, he's holding them hostage.
This guy will sabotage a season, without conscience or remorse. This guy is fully capable of deluding himself into believing the Eagles have treated him so unfairly that he will quit on them in selected games. This guy is the best I've ever seen at slowly ... draining ... the ... life ... out ... of ... a ... playoff ... team.
He is a destructive force to be reckoned with. He can use the media to make life miserable for his coach and his quarterback. He can use his leave-me-alone body language to make the locker room feel like a meat locker to teammates. He can be so good in practice and games -- and suddenly so terrible.
For the Eagles' organization, keeping him will be cutting off its hard nose to spite its face. The 49ers thought they could tame the beast inside Owens in 2002 and 2003 and win a Super Bowl with him. Bill Walsh, then a 49ers advisor, thought so. So did Terry Donahue, then the general manager.
Somewhere, Walsh and Donahue are saying "good luck" to the Eagles. They know all too well that T.O. will soon stand for nothing but Ticked Off.
Thursday on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza," Drew Rosenhaus, who was born to be T.O.'s agent, said it's 50-50 whether Owens will report when Eagles camp opens Monday. But, said Rosenhaus, if Owens does, "He won't be a happy camper."
Here we go.
That's why, if the Eagles were smart, they would announce right now they're open to finding poor Terrell a new home. Yes, open the phone lines to any and all trade offers and see if anyone is crazy enough to bite. Tell the NFL world: "We won't give him away, but give us your best shot -- preferably a proven receiver."
See if you can start a bidding war.
Two complications, of course: 1) You're asking for a No. 1 receiver in return for a guy who immediately wants to be paid like the No. 1 receiver in football. And 2) You would be violating what feels faintly like a form of old-school collusion among some NFL owners.
Several have made it sound as if they're committed to showing these upstarts they will not beat the system by holding out. It seems that Owens now thinks if he makes enough noise, he can create almost annual free agency for himself. Now he says he wants to team up with Michael Vick in Atlanta, where Owens makes his offseason home.
No doubt some owners are thinking: If we let him talk his way out of Philadelphia, by next year he'll want more money to play with Peyton Manning.
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank has already made it very clear his franchise has no interest in Owens -- even though Atlanta's biggest need, obviously, is a wideout so good that Vick will prefer throwing to running. So you get the feeling that owners are basically saying, "Don't give these malcontents an escape route."
But there's always one coach or owner just desperate or cocky enough to think he can win big with Owens.
One Denny Green or Al Davis.
A couple of months ago, I proposed an Owens-to-Oakland trade -- T.O. straight up for Jerry Porter. The Raiders indicated they weren't interested because Davis loves Porter and because Owens' money wouldn't fit under their cap.
But Davis has been known to work cap magic when he wants to, and this still would be an excellent deal for both teams. You laugh, but I think Owens and Randy Moss could make a devastating one-two punch. Owens could make lots of catches. Moss could make the catch.
The Eagles have indicated they don't love Porter. But he would give them a chance to win this season's Super Bowl. Owens will not.
Green, entering his second year as the Cardinals' head coach, came within a missed field goal of a Super Bowl while coaching Moss in Minnesota. Green surely believes he can handle Owens. How about Anquan Boldin for Owens?
True, Owens soon might be saying that Kurt Warner makes him miss Jeff Garcia. But Green might be able convince Owens that if he gives Arizona one great year, he would be taken care of financially.
The Eagles should open the bidding right now and encourage Rosenhaus to play matchmaker. And if Owens' reputation and the lower leg he injured last season have scared off the rest of the league -- if no team offers anything near equal value -- at least the Eagles can say, "We tried, Terrell."
This is their only hope.
This, or cave in and give him a new deal. Rosenhaus says he has had recent "dialogue" with Eagles management, but at this point, it's difficult to believe those discussions are anything more than lip service.
The fact remains that the NFL Players Association advised Owens not to sign his current seven-year, $49 million contract (including a $10 million signing bonus). But Owens gratefully signed it because: 1) his former agent had blown the free-agent deadline; 2) he had been traded to Baltimore; and 3) he had thrown such a fit until he had been allowed to sign with Philly and play with his dear friend and soul mate, Donovan McNabb.
Yes, the same McNabb he ripped after the Eagles lost in the Super Bowl. "I wasn't the one who got tired," Owens said.
That's right, Owens has burned the best bridge he ever had. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported that McNabb tried to rebuild it by inviting Owens to offseason workouts in Phoenix attended by all the Eagles receivers. McNabb, said Paolantonio, received a chilly response.
Once, when I covered Owens' 49ers, a team executive dismissed him with, "He's as dumb as a chair." I disagreed then and do now. Terrell Eldorado Owens has brilliant PR instincts -- governed by deep, dark insecurity. That's right: All his egomaniacal celebrating sometimes masks a shrinking confidence.
The 49ers thought counseling might help him. Apparently, it didn't.
Owens has a history of creating often inexplicable feuds with executives, coaches and teammates -- especially quarterbacks. He had a very public fight with then-49ers coach Steve Mariucci during the 2001 season. Though Owens led the league in touchdown catches in 2001 and 2002, he constantly dropped sarcastic hints that he could catch many more if Garcia had a stronger arm.
My theory: Owens always builds in excuses to take the pressure and potential blame off him.
History will continue to repeat in Philadelphia.
Management, for some unknown reason, was always "out to get him" in San Francisco. He always wanted to be traded because he wasn't making enough money. Yet he always mixed emotions because he practiced hard, worked so hard on his body and avoided the police blotter.
Very bottom line: I'm not sure I've encountered as talented a player in any sport who was more interested in promoting himself and less interested in winning.
Owens is far more trouble than he's worth.
Manny Ramirez, on the other hand, is worth the trouble. Manny was World Series MVP. The bigger the moment, the more I want Manny at the plate with runners in scoring position.
T.O. seems to be working harder at making McNabb his enemy than anything else.
If I'm Manny's manager and teammates, I just ignore him until his current "trade me" funk passes. History says it will.
But what exactly has Owens done to prove he's great in the clutch? The Eagles won two pressure-cooker home playoff games without him. Owens had virtually no pressure on him when he "courageously" returned to play with a slight limp in the Super Bowl. A patchwork New England secondary backed off and let him catch the ball underneath because he had no top gear.
Owens couldn't have written himself a better script: He became a hero to gullible fans for catching nine passes for 122 yards -- and no touchdowns.
Now, he says, the Eagles are "disrespecting me and my family" by not making him the NFL's highest paid receiver.
The Eagles have no chance against this guy and his media posse.
Of his relationship with McNabb, he now offers this threat: "I don't think it's great, and I think that's going to be a problem."
He will continue to peck away publicly at McNabb. His attacks on Garcia hit bottom with raising questions about the quarterback's sexuality.
Trading T.O. now is the only way out.
Heading into 2003, the 49ers were a consensus playoff team. Management considered them Super Bowl-caliber. Owens had other ideas.
In game after crucial game, Owens dropped pass after random pass. Management couldn't be sure if this was premeditated from game to game or if Owens had just generally quit on the team. But it was as shameful a season-long display as I've witnessed -- and it was shocking that it didn't make more national news.
"SportsCenter" highlights of TD celebrations can be dangerously misleading. When the Eagles giddily signed this guy, they seemed to have no real idea of what they were getting into.
Owens slowly ... drained ... the ... life ... out ... of the 2003 49ers, who finished 7-9.
That's why the Eagles are about to be history.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice weekly on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.