Will Terrell Owens speak to Donovan McNabb?
Do they even need to speak?
Those are two of the questions that have swirled around the Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks, since five-time Pro Bowl wideout Owens reported to the team's training camp and then, with his contract dispute with the club still raging, was banished for a week by Coach Andy Reid for bad behavior. Owens's public wrath has been directed in large part at McNabb, his quarterback, and many observers wonder whether the frostiness of their relationship will undermine the defending NFC champions this season.
The first hint of what the answer will be comes tonight, when Owens is scheduled to make his preseason debut as the Eagles face the Cincinnati Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field. It could be the only appearance of the exhibition season for Owens, since Reid often withholds his starters from the preseason finale.
Owens has not created any known disturbances since returning to the team nine days ago after Reid's punishment. He missed the Eagles' first two preseason games because of his suspension and a strained groin muscle.
"I think he feels pretty good," Reid said during his news briefing Thursday. "He is running around good. He hasn't had a lot of pain in there. He will get a nice stretch before he gets out there and plays. He should be fine."
It will be Owens's first game since he had nine catches for 122 yards in the Eagles' Super Bowl defeat to the New England Patriots in February. He returned early from a severe ankle injury, against the advice of his surgeon, to play in that game.
Owens and McNabb haven't been on speaking terms since Owens reported to training camp. Owens had questioned McNabb's Super Bowl performance during the offseason, and called the quarterback a "hypocrite" during television interviews just after he was suspended by Reid. McNabb said that he would have a working relationship with Owens and nothing more, and indicated when Owens rejoined the team that he expected the two to talk at some point. Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said he would try to broker a peace settlement.
This will be Owens's first appearance in front of Philadelphia fans since the latest blowup in the dispute; recent practices have been closed to the public. The fan reaction to him was mixed early in training camp, with more boos than cheers initially but the crowd gradually warming to him when he made positive plays on the practice field . . . .
People familiar with the situation insisted there was no truth to rumors that Owens and the Eagles have a secret agreement that if Owens behaves himself this season, the club will release him in the spring, thus making him an unrestricted free agent.
Even if there is no such agreement, however, it's possible -- if not likely -- that Owens will be released after this season. He obviously has not endeared himself to the organization in recent months. The Eagles will have time, at that point, to shop for a suitable replacement, and Owens's contract is structured in a way that makes a parting financially palatable to the team. If he remains with the club, Owens is to receive a $2.5 million option bonus and a $5 million roster bonus next year . . . .
A person close to the situation also denied that the Eagles were working on a trade for Green Bay Packers backup tailback Najeh Davenport. Such a deal is highly unlikely, the person said. The Eagles, who just lost reserve tailback Correll Buckhalter to a season-ending knee injury, have been in touch with the agent for free-agent running back Dorsey Levens, who replaced Buckhalter on the roster in two of the previous three seasons when Buckhalter was hurt. But the Eagles apparently have not decided whether they will add Levens or any other tailback this time around . . . .
Eagles left tackle Tra Thomas also is to make his preseason debut tonight. He has been sidelined due to a blood clot in his leg.
Benson Visits Angelo
Unsigned first-round draft choice Cedric Benson surprised the Chicago Bears by showing up Thursday at Halas Hall and meeting with General Manager Jerry Angelo. That reopened the lines of communication after an 11-day silence in the contract standoff, which has resulted in Benson refusing to report to the team since training camp opened 34 days ago.
Thursday's meeting created renewed hopes that the Bears will be able to sign the tailback and have him ready to face the Washington Redskins in the Sept. 11 regular season opener at FedEx Field. Benson is the only first-round draft pick league-wide not under contract . . . .
Minnesota Vikings center Matt Birk is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and could be sidelined for three months. He and his agent, Joe Linta, had told the Vikings that Birk would play through the pain and risk further long-term damage if the team was willing to guarantee his nearly $4 million salary for the 2006 season, but the Vikings declined.
It will be the fifth surgery in a little more than a year for Birk -- three for sports hernias and two for torn labrums in his hip. The Vikings will have to decide whether to put Birk on the injured reserve list, making him ineligible to play for the club this season, or keep him on the active roster and leave open the possibility of him returning to play in mid- to late November. The Vikings have made Cory Withrow their starting center and probably will place Birk on the IR list . . . .
The Detroit Lions signed rookie quarterback Tim Chang, the record-setting passer in college at Hawaii who was released by the Arizona Cardinals earlier in camp.
Niners Back on Field
The San Francisco 49ers host Tennessee tonight in their first game since offensive lineman Thomas Herrion collapsed and died following a preseason game Saturday in Denver. Coach Mike Nolan said he briefly considered canceling the game against the Titans but thought playing it was the right thing to do. The Titans' Jeff Fisher was one of the many NFL head coaches who called Nolan during the week to offer support and advice.
Nolan and 49ers co-owners John York and Denise DeBartolo-York are scheduled to attend Herrion's funeral Saturday in Fort Worth, Tex., the player's hometown.