The uneasy truce between wide receiver Terrell Owens and the Philadelphia Eagles collapsed yesterday. Owens was sent home from the Eagles' training camp in Bethlehem, Pa., after clashing with Coach Andy Reid, who banished him from the team for a week.
Owens said in a television interview from his home in New Jersey that he had been told by Reid that he could rejoin the club on Wednesday. A source familiar with the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Eagles had not yet issued a public comment on the incident, said that Owens had a sharp exchange with Reid at a team meeting, then packed his belongings and drove away from camp at Lehigh University to his house in Moorestown, N.J.
"I got sent home until Wednesday for whatever reason," Owens, who was filmed shooting baskets outside his house, told Comcast SportsNet. "It was just a difference of opinion. I was defending myself."
Owens did not divulge the details of the disagreement during the TV interview. An Eagles spokesman declined to comment and agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Owens, did not return a telephone message.
Eagles players spoke to NFL Players Association officials about the episode and a union source said the club had the right to suspend Owens for conduct detrimental to the team. Any challenge to the discipline would almost certainly fail, the source said. Owens could be fined but will not lose any of his $3.25 million salary for this season because NFL players are paid their salaries only during the regular season.
The exchange between Owens and Reid may have stemmed from Owens's decision to skip an autograph session for fans for the second time in recent days, citing the need to undergo treatment for a groin injury. One of the topics covered during yesterday's team meeting, a source said, was player obligations, including signing autographs.
Another source said that Reid also might have been upset that Owens ran patterns and caught passes on a side field but didn't participate in yesterday's practice. It was the fifth time in six days that Owens didn't practice because of his strained groin muscle. Reid previously had defended Owens, saying the injury was legitimate and there should be no suspicions that his absences from the practice field were related to his contract dispute.
"Everybody needs to understand the situation is all business," Owens said yesterday. "It's nothing personal. The situation is between me and management. They know what's going on.
"I think some people are kind of ticked off because I haven't really said much. They don't pay me to go in there and talk to everybody and be friendly to everybody. They paid me to play and they paid me to perform. That's what I've been going in there and doing."
Owens reported to training camp on time 10 days ago after threatening during the offseason to hold out from camp when the Eagles refused to renegotiate his seven-year, nearly $49 million contract after one season. Rosenhaus earlier had said that Owens might leave camp even if he reported, and Owens had indicated he would be unhappy if he showed up. But when Owens reported, Rosenhaus said that Owens had no intention of leaving and would act professionally even while continuing to pursue a new contract.
Rosenhaus and Owens reiterated those sentiments during a meeting with Reid and Eagles President Joe Banner nine days ago, and Banner said publicly that afternoon that he expected Owens to remain in camp. But Owens refused to speak to media members or fans and rarely interacted with quarterback Donovan McNabb or his other teammates on the practice field. Owens took some verbal swipes at McNabb during the offseason, and McNabb has said that the two don't need to be friendly to coexist as teammates.
If Owens breaches his contract by refusing to participate in mandatory team activities, he could enable the Eagles to try to recoup most of the $2.3 million signing bonus that he received from the club last year. Union officials advised Owens against signing the contract last year because of the language in it, but Owens ignored the warnings.