The Philadelphia Eagles don't have any particularly appealing options when it comes to Terrell Owens.

If they allow the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to return to the team after his one-week banishment by Coach Andy Reid expires, they risk having him be the distraction of all distractions and rip apart a championship-caliber club.

If they trade or release him, they would absorb a salary-cap hit, weaken themselves, potentially strengthen another team, and give Owens exactly what he wants.

The conspiracy theorists around the league are increasingly convinced that Owens is intentionally misbehaving in an attempt to bait the Eagles into trading or releasing him. After threatening during the offseason to hold out from training camp because the Eagles refused to renegotiate his seven-year, $48.97 million contract after one season, Owens relented and reported to camp on time last week in Bethlehem, Pa. If he hadn't, language in his contract would have put the Eagles in position to be able to force him to return most of the $2.3 million signing bonus that he received from the club last year.

But little positive happened after Owens reported. He had little interaction with teammates, fans or media members. He wasn't practicing in recent days because of a sore groin muscle and refused to participate in two autograph sessions, saying he was busy getting treatment for his injury.

When Owens exchanged sharp words with Reid on Wednesday, Reid told him to leave. So Owens packed his belongings and departed Lehigh University. He later spoke to reporters at his home in Moorestown, N.J., after being spotted shooting baskets outside.

"It sure looks to me like he's doing everything he can to get himself out of there," a general manager from another team said Wednesday night, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the league's tampering rules prohibit him from commenting publicly on a player under contract to another club. "He's not holding out because that would let the Eagles go after his signing bonus, but he's doing his best to be a pain in their butt."

Before Owens reported to camp, he had said he would be unhappy if he showed up, and agent Drew Rosenhaus had said that just because Owens reported to camp didn't necessarily mean that he'd stay there. When Owens reported, Rosenhaus reversed course and said that, while Owens still wanted a new contract, he planned to stay in camp and intended to act professionally. Rosenhaus and Owens reiterated those sentiments in a meeting the following day with Reid and Eagles President Joe Banner.

But Owens previously has said he'd welcome a trade, mentioning Atlanta as a possible destination. Rosenhaus also has left open the possibility of Owens being traded.

The problem for the Eagles is that parting with Owens would amount to a surrender on their part. They know that Owens playing for another team could come back to haunt them. He was, after all, one of the league's most valuable players last season, helping the Eagles to a 13-1 record before a severe ankle injury ended his regular season and then returning early to be the club's best player in its Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

The Eagles would have to take a salary-cap hit to cut or trade Owens. Even if Owens agrees to return signing-bonus money, the salary-cap rebate for such a move would not be credited to the team until next season. And the Eagles need Owens's production. They already have lost their other starting wideout, Todd Pinkston, for the entire season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon, and they got rid of Freddie Mitchell during the offseason. Minus Owens, the Eagles' starting receivers would be Greg Lewis and rookie Reggie Brown. That's not the stuff of Super Bowl champions.

So the Eagles could be left welcoming Owens back into the fold next Wednesday and hoping for the best, hoping that Owens follows his usual pattern and balances the headaches that he creates off the field with nonstop production during games. It doesn't benefit Owens to have a bad season, since that would hurt his market value if the Eagles end up releasing him after the season.

Rosenhaus showed up at Owens's house Wednesday night after taping David Letterman's show in New York earlier in the evening, and the agent might travel to Bethlehem today for further discussions with Eagles officials . . . .

The Eagles signed defensive end Juqua Thomas, formerly of the Tennessee Titans.

Edwards Deal on Again

Wide receiver Braylon Edwards's contract agreement with the Cleveland Browns was on, then off, then on again Wednesday. Barring any more snags, he should sign the deal today and participate in practice.

Edwards and his agent, Lamont Smith, agreed to a five-year contract Wednesday and were in Cleveland for Edwards to sign it. But he didn't, leaving when a disagreement arose over marketing issues.

Negotiations continued, however, and all apparently was worked out later in the night. Edwards's deal includes about $18.5 million in bonus money. He was the third player selected in the NFL draft in April . . . .

Offensive tackle Alex Barron, the 19th overall choice in the draft, agreed to a five-year contract with the St. Louis Rams.

The Edwards and Barron signings would leave four first-rounders unsigned: Miami Dolphins tailback Ronnie Brown (the No. 2 overall pick), Chicago Bears tailback Cedric Benson (No. 4), Titans cornerback Adam (Pac-Man) Jones (No. 6) and Cincinnati Bengals linebacker David Pollack (No. 17) . . . .

San Francisco 49ers Coach Mike Nolan named rookie quarterback Alex Smith, the top overall choice in the draft, the club's starter for Saturday's preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders. Smith is slated to take 20 to 25 snaps before giving way to Tim Rattay, and will play behind an injury-depleted offensive line that could be missing four projected starters.

Steelers' Porter Joins Staley on Shelf

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter underwent knee surgery Wednesday to have a piece of loose cartilage removed and is to be sidelined four weeks. Coach Bill Cowher said he hopes that Porter, who was hurt during a pass-rush drill Tuesday, will be back by the start of the regular season.

James Harrison takes over, for now, at Porter's outside linebacker spot. Porter is the second key Steelers player to undergo knee surgery this week. Tailback Duce Staley also is to be on the shelf about a month.

An overflow crowd of about 10,000 attended the Steelers' practice Wednesday night at Memorial Stadium in Latrobe. The team returns to its usual camp site, nearby St. Vincent College, for today's practice . . . .

Rookie wideout Roscoe Parrish hurt his right hand during the Buffalo Bills' practice. The extent of the injury was not immediately known . . . . The Bills signed tight end Kevin Everett, a third-round draft pick who's sidelined by a knee injury suffered during an offseason minicamp. He perhaps could play late in the regular season . . . .

The Minnesota Vikings activated center Matt Birk from the physically unable to perform list. He's working his way back from hip surgery . . . .

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott missed the team's afternoon practice Wednesday because of a pinched nerve in his neck. He underwent surgery in late 2003 to have a herniated disk in his neck repaired and is preparing for what is likely to be his final NFL season . . . .

New York Jets Coach Herman Edwards missed Wednesday night's practice to be with his wife, Lia, who gave birth to a daughter the couple named Gabrielle Lee.