Can the NFL Players Association bail out Terrell Owens again?
It's probably a long shot. But then again, few in the league thought the union would be successful the last time it took up Owens's cause.
That was after the 2003 season, when Owens's former agent, David Joseph, failed to meet a deadline to file the necessary paperwork to void the remainder of Owens's contract with the San Francisco 49ers and make him an unrestricted free agent. The NFL's management council ruled that Owens remained under contract to the 49ers, who traded him to the Baltimore Ravens. Owens refused to report to his would-be new team.
Enter the union, which brought a case before NFL special master Stephen Burbank contending that Owens should be declared a free agent. Burbank conducted a hearing and made it clear to the participants that he was prepared to rule in favor of the union and Owens, and the parties hurriedly agreed to a settlement in which Owens was sent to the club of his choosing, the Philadelphia Eagles.
That relationship, of course, has disintegrated in Owens's second season in Philadelphia, but now the union is back in the picture. It filed a grievance on Owens's behalf Monday night, contending that the Eagles have overstepped their bounds by suspending Owens for four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the team and declaring that he will be inactive for the remainder of the season after the suspension expires. Arbitrator Richard Bloch has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 18 in Philadelphia.
Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the union, a club can suspend a player for up to four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the team. In Owens's case, that would cost him about $800,000 of his $3.25 million salary for this season, and his contract contains a provision that might allow the Eagles to recoup approximately $1.7 million of his $2.3 million signing bonus.
The union maintains in its grievance that the Eagles have exceeded the maximum allowable punishment because they've added the five-game de-activation after the suspension.
The league likely will argue on the Eagles' behalf that the team can do as it chooses because Owens is under contract and it will be paying him his salary while he's inactive. The league probably will cite the precedent of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers de-activating wideout Keyshawn Johnson for the final six games of the 2003 season for insubordination.
The union plans to counter that by making Owens inactive, the Eagles are depriving him of the opportunity to earn incentives in his contract. The union also might argue that being de-activated will improperly diminish Owens's future earning power, and call for Bloch to force the Eagles to activate Owens after his suspension or release him so that he could sign with another team. Union officials say the four-game suspension alone is excessive compared to other cases in which a club has punished a player for conduct detrimental to the team.
"The CBA puts four games without pay as the absolute limit a team can impose on a player," said Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel who will argue Owens's case, along with attorney Jeffrey Kessler, before Bloch. "They're exceeding it big-time by saying he can't come back and play after the suspension. The ability of a player to be on the field in careers that average only about four years is critical. It affects future income, incentives, endorsements. They can't say, 'You can't play anywhere else, but we're not going to play you either.' "
Bloch can be unpredictable in NFL cases. He's the arbitrator who surprised the league by ruling in April 2003 that kick returner Chad Morton would become a member of the Washington Redskins because the New York Jets had improperly matched an offer sheet that Morton signed with the Redskins in restricted free agency.
The league appears confident that it will prevail in this Owens case. Of course, the league has thought that before when it has clashed with the union in a dispute involving Owens, and been wrong.
Rosenhaus Takes Up for Owens
Agent Drew Rosenhaus's voice rose indignantly Tuesday as he defended Owens during a 15-minute news conference outside Owens's home in New Jersey.
"I don't believe the media has been fair to him," Rosenhaus said, sometimes yelling to be heard above the questions being shouted at him by reporters. "There are players in the NFL who are arrested, who violate the program when it comes to drugs or substance abuse, and they are not punished as seriously as he has been. There are players who do not get criticized as heavily by the media who do very significant things. He hasn't broken any laws. He hasn't broken any rules. . . . I wouldn't want to talk to [the media] if I were in his position, to hear the way that people have ripped him. He is a competitor. He is a great competitor. He gave up, potentially, his career to compete in the Super Bowl. He did that as a member of the team. He did that for the Eagles, for the fans, and now he is getting ripped [and] called selfish. This is not about him being selfish. He is a genuine, honest person. He never intended to offend anyone at any time."
Rosenhaus made a public plea for the Eagles to reinstate Owens immediately, but the club didn't budge. A team spokesman said the Eagles' stance hadn't changed.
Rosenhaus said he was offended by suggestions he'd heard that he wasn't fully loyal to Owens. "That is absurd," the Miami-based agent said. "I love this man."
Rosenhaus's comments came after Owens issued his second public apology in a five-day span. On Friday, he read an apology to the organization at the team's training facility but didn't apologize specifically to quarterback Donovan McNabb, even though he reportedly had an apology to McNabb written on the paper from which he read his statement that day. The Eagles were dissatisfied with that apology, and they announced Saturday that Owens wouldn't play Sunday night against the Redskins. On Monday, Coach Andy Reid announced the full details of Owens's punishment.
On Tuesday, Owens did apologize directly to McNabb, saying: "I would like to reiterate my respect for Donovan McNabb as a quarterback and as a teammate. I apologize to him for any comment that may have been negative."
Owens also apologized to his other teammates, Reid, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, club president Joe Banner and the team's fans. Of Reid, he said: "I respect you as a coach and as a person."
Owens didn't answer questions from reporters and stuck to reading from a written statement.
"I am a football player," Owens said. "This is what I do. It really hurts me not to be a part of the team any more. I came here to help the Eagles get to the Super Bowl and win the big game. When I got hurt last year and everyone said my season was over, I fought hard to prove the world was wrong and do everything possible, including risk my career, to help the Eagles win the Super Bowl. And I think the mentality that I have, my greatest strength, can sometimes be my greatest weakness. I'm a fighter. I've always been, and I'll always be. I fight for what I think is right. In doing so, I alienated a lot of my fans and my teammates."
Rosenhaus pointed out that Owens's criticism of McNabb during an ESPN interview last week came in the form of being asked about a statement in which commentator Michael Irvin said the Eagles would be better off with Brett Favre at quarterback, and agreeing with that assessment.
"He agreed with a statement," Rosenhaus said. "He did not come out and try to offend anyone. He agreed with a comment. He was asked if he agreed with a statement. He said, 'I agree.' There was no intent. There was no malicious intent. Terrell's goal this year was to win a Super Bowl as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. That has never wavered. That's his goal. He hopes to do that. It's very unfortunate that he's been sidetracked."
Rosenhaus called it "unfortunate" that the Eagles did not accept Owens's apology last week, and added: "That's not Terrell's fault."
Said Rosenhaus: "Genuinely he is remorseful for any comments that he may have made or any actions, as he said, that may have offended anybody or been perceived as negative. That was not his intent. Terrell is here to say that he's sorry for that. Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. He is owning up to it. He will be a better man for it. Please don't vilify him for it, and let him have another opportunity. He deserves that." . . . The Eagles announced today that they'd re-signed veteran tight end Chad Lewis. The three-time Pro Bowl selection had been out of the league this season. The Eagles didn't re-sign Lewis in the offseason after he missed last season's Super Bowl because of a foot injury he suffered while making a touchdown catch in the NFC title game. . . .
Philadelphia placed starting center Hank Fraley on the injured reserve list because of a shoulder injury, and promoted center Jamaal Jackson from its practice squad. The Eagles also put linebacker Jason Short on the IR list because of a broken leg and signed linebacker Dedrick Roper from Pittsburgh's practice squad. Owens was placed on the reserve-suspended list.
Holmes Likely Out for Season
The Chiefs are denying a report by a Kansas City television station that tailback Priest Holmes's career could be over. It appears likely, however, that Holmes won't play again this season. He has been undergoing tests for a possible spine injury. He suffered a shoulder injury earlier this season and a blow to the head during a recent game.
Garcia Must Show He's Healthy
Jeff Garcia is to regain Detroit's starting-quarterback job this week if he demonstrates to Coach Steve Mariucci that he's healthy. Joey Harrington replaced Garcia as the starter last weekend, a week after Garcia aggravated the broken leg and severe ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason. Garcia had started two games since Mariucci benched Harrington, and Harrington did nothing to regain the job in last Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. . . .
Arizona signed kicker Neil Rackers, who's connected on all 26 of his field goal attempts this season, to a four-year contract extension apparently worth more than $6 million. . . .
In Miami, Dolphins Coach Nick Saban was under public pressure this week to turn to backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels, but he's sticking with struggling veteran Gus Frerotte as his starter. The Dolphins placed wide receiver David Boston on the IR list because of a knee injury. . . .
New England quarterback Tom Brady told Boston-area radio station WEEI on Tuesday that the Patriots are feeling sorry for themselves too often this season. They dropped to 4-4 with Monday night's 40-21 loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts.
"I think it's a general malaise," Brady said, according to a Providence Journal account of the radio interview. "We look at the scoreboard and we're losing and things aren't going our way. We need to take that as a challenge, [to not] go into that funk. We've been down in several games this year and come back and fought hard. We all know we're capable of it. . . . As a captain, I will stress to the team that we have to start playing with higher expectations for ourselves."