The Philadelphia Eagles will play the Washington Redskins tonight at FedEx Field without Terrell Owens. The Eagles announced yesterday, two days after Owens criticized the club's front office and quarterback Donovan McNabb in a televised interview, that they had suspended the highly productive but highly controversial wide receiver for conduct detrimental to the team.
The Eagles did not specify how long the suspension will last or whether Owens will be paid during the suspension. NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said the union likely will appeal the suspension on Owens's behalf once it finds out what the terms are.
"We have to look at all the facts," Upshaw said. "It's not about [Owens]. It's about the arbitration system and the rights players have. We have the duty of fair representation. We have to defend the player no matter what happens, even if the player doesn't want us to proceed. There are other issues bigger than he is."
A source familiar with the situation said the Eagles imposed the suspension after Owens refused the team's request that he address his teammates and apologize directly to them. Even with the defending NFC champions struggling with a 4-3 record entering this key divisional showdown against the Redskins, the Eagles did not feel that the public apology issued Friday by Owens was sufficient, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case possibly could result in a grievance.
Owens read a three-sentence apology to reporters Friday at the Eagles' training facility after saying in an interview Thursday with ESPN that the team showed a lack of class when it failed to recognize his 100th career touchdown catch during a recent game, and that the club might be undefeated if Brett Favre was its quarterback.
Owens was not available to comment, and his Miami-based agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declined to comment when reached by telephone. Owens said during his weekly appearance on a Miami radio show Friday that he regretted the ESPN interview but felt some of his comments were taken out of context.
The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players' union allows a club to suspend a player for as many as four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the team. In Owens's case, he would lose $191,176 -- one-seventeenth of his $3.25 million salary for this season -- for each game that he misses if his suspension is without pay.
Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, said he wasn't in the office yesterday but he would expect the union to be informed of the suspension's terms by tomorrow, and then a final determination could be made about an appeal.
"We'll definitely be interested in looking at exactly what the terms of this are," Berthelsen said. "There's no such thing as an indefinite suspension in the NFL. The CBA requires they inform the player and us on any conduct detrimental. They can't just wait indefinitely until they work out the details."
In other cases, union officials have said it's difficult to contest such a sanction because a club has great leeway when it invokes the "conduct detrimental to the team" clause. But a source said the union might be able to contend in this case that the suspension was an overreaction because Owens's most inflammatory comments were aimed at the club's front office, not his teammates, arguably lessening the need for an apology to his teammates, as the club apparently demanded.
It's the second time since training camp that the Eagles have disciplined Owens. Coach Andy Reid dismissed Owens from the team for a week during training camp after the two clashed over Owens's refusal to speak to assistant coaches and to participate in an autograph session for fans. That sanction did not result in a challenge by the union, in part because NFL players are not paid during training camp. Owens was involved in a bitter contract dispute with the Eagles during the offseason and was publicly critical of McNabb.
Owens ranks third in the NFL with 47 catches, third with 763 receiving yards and is tied for second with six touchdown catches. He re-injured his surgically repaired right ankle during last Sunday's loss at Denver but told ESPN he expected to be ready to play tonight. Without him, Philadelphia plans to start rookie Reggie Brown at wideout opposite Greg Lewis.
The Eagles won two NFC playoff games last season without Owens. But this season they've had no effective running game, McNabb has played with an assortment of injuries, and they need to beat the Redskins to stay out of last place in the NFC East -- a division they've won four straight seasons.
A Redskins spokesman said the team had no comment.