Arbitrator Richard Bloch today upheld the Philadelphia Eagles' four-game suspension of wide receiver Terrell Owens and their plan to deactivate him for the remainder of the season.
The NFL Players Association had filed a grievance on Owens's behalf after the Eagles suspended him without pay for conduct detrimental to the team, and announced their intention to deactivate him for the rest of the season once his suspension ends. Bloch heard arguments from both sides in the case during a 14-hour hearing Friday at a Philadelphia airport hotel.
Owens loses about $800,000 of his $3.25 million salary for this season. His seven-year, nearly $49 million contract with the Eagles also contains a provision that might enable the team to recoup about $1.7 million in bonus money.
The suspension ends this weekend. The Eagles will have to pay Owens for their final five games of the season, even if he's deactivated.
Bloch's ruling means that Owens likely has played his final game with the Eagles. It long has been expected that the Eagles will release Owens after this season.
The union maintained that the suspension was excessive compared to the punishments handed down in similar cases, and argued that the Eagles had not properly followed a course of escalating sanctions with Owens because their only previous disciplinary action against him this season was a $150 fine for being late to a meeting. Because NFL players are not paid during training camp, the union ignored Owens's one-week banishment from the team by Coach Andy Reid during training camp this past summer.
The union also argued that deactivating Owens after his suspension ends would violate the sport's collective bargaining agreement, which sets a four-game suspension without pay as the maximum punishment for conduct detrimental to the team. Union officials said that Owens should have been reinstated to active playing status with the Eagles, and the team should have been forced to release him if it didn't want to play him the rest of the season.
The Eagles maintained that they acted only after a series of transgressions by Owens, not all of which have been made public. The punishment came on the heels of Owens criticizing the club's front office and quarterback Donovan McNabb during a televised interview, one day after he reportedly got into a locker-room scuffle with former Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas.
The defending NFC champions have lost three games since suspending Owens, dropping their record to 4-6. McNabb has decided to undergo season-ending surgery to have a sports hernia repaired.
The feud stems from a bitter contract dispute that began after Owens returned early from a severe ankle sprain to play in last season's Super Bowl, which the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots. Owens was publicly critical of the team and McNabb throughout the offseason, and his training-camp punishment by Reid came for refusing to speak to the club's assistant coaches or participate in an autograph session for fans. Still, Owens remained productive on the field, with 47 catches for 763 yards and six touchdowns in seven games.
General Manager Ernie Accorsi signed a contract extension with the New York Giants and intends to remain with the team at least through next season.
Accorsi, until recently, had planned to retire after this season but he didn't want to subject the organization to further upheaval after the deaths of co-owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch. He also didn't want to risk leaving too soon, with the Giants perhaps on the verge of great things.
Lions Keep QB Decision To Selves
Detroit Lions Coach Steve Mariucci closed portions of Tuesday's practice to reporters, not wanting them to ascertain whether Joey Harrington or Jeff Garcia will be the starting quarterback for the Thanksgiving game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Mariucci, whose practices usually are open to media members, indicated he had made a choice but didn't plan to divulge it until near game time. Garcia made two starts after Mariucci benched Harrington, but has missed three games since then after aggravating the leg injuries that he suffered during preseason. . . .
Lions cornerback Dre Bly is scheduled to return to the team's lineup Thursday after missing four games because of a wrist injury. . . .
The Pittsburgh Steelers expect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to return to their lineup for Monday night's game at Indianapolis. He has missed the last three games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The Steelers won two games with Charlie Batch as their starter, but had to turn to the mistake-prone Tommy Maddox after Batch suffered a broken hand and lost to the Baltimore Ravens last weekend. . . .
The St. Louis Rams signed quarterback Jeff Smoker. He had a brief stint on Philadelphia's practice squad after being released by the Rams, but returns to St. Louis now that the club is without starting quarterback Marc Bulger. Smoker will be third on the depth chart, behind fill-in starter Jamie Martin and rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick. . . .
Green Bay released safety Earl Little from its injured reserve list. He had recovered from a hamstring injury, and now is eligible to sign with anther team. . . . Packers Coach Mike Sherman is leaving open the possibility of Tony Fisher replacing Samkon Gado as the team's starting tailback this week. . . .
Jacksonville placed safety Nick Sorensen on the injured reserve list because of a broken ankle. The Jaguars promoted rookie cornerback Chris Roberson from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. . . .
Miami claimed linebacker T.J. Hollowell off waivers from the New York Jets. The Dolphins waived defensive tackle Josh Shaw.