Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens will not play again for the Philadelphia Eagles this season after he was suspended yesterday for three additional games for conduct detrimental to the team. Following the suspension, Eagles Coach Andy Reid said Owens will be placed on the inactive list for the final five regular season games.
"This decision is a result of a large number of situations that accumulated over a long period of time," Reid said during a news conference at the team's Philadelphia headquarters. "He's been warned repeatedly about the consequences of his actions. We gave Terrell every opportunity to avoid this situation."
Reid initially suspended Owens on Saturday, and the wide receiver missed Sunday night's 17-10 loss to the Washington Redskins, the first game of a maximum four-game suspension allowed by league rules. The move leaves the struggling Eagles (4-4) in greater danger of becoming the fifth consecutive Super Bowl loser to have a losing record the following season.
Owens said in an interview with ESPN last week that the Eagles would have been undefeated this year if Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers was their starting quarterback. He also complained that the Eagles organization did not go out of its way to recognize his 100th career touchdown reception during a game against San Diego on Oct. 23.
On Wednesday, Owens got into a scuffle with former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Hugh Douglas, now working in the Eagles' front office, in the team's training room. Douglas had questioned the severity of an ankle injury Owens claimed to have incurred against the Denver Broncos and the two had to be separated by teammates. Owens reportedly then went into the locker room and challenged any other players who had been talking about him behind his back.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the union immediately will file a grievance on Owens's behalf with the NFL Management Council and hopes to have a hearing scheduled with a non-injury grievance arbitrator within the next seven days.
Unless his grievance is upheld, Owens would lose about $800,000 for the games he misses because of the suspension. But he will be paid for the final five games.
"I know they expect us to appeal and we will appeal," Upshaw said. "Under the collective bargaining agreement, the maximum for conduct detrimental is four weeks without pay. We think [not bringing him back after the suspension] is excessive. We don't know what his contract says in terms of incentives and things like that. We'll say [in the hearing], if you don't want him around, then cut him. He has incentives that he'll miss out on if he's not playing.
"This is beyond where Terrell Owens is. This affects all our players. It's why we have an issue with the language in these contracts. Things we're able to gain in collective bargaining, some clubs are finding a way to undermine them. That's also what this is all about."
After reading an initial statement on Owens's suspension yesterday, Reid said he would not answer any questions on the team's action.
"The league was notified by the NFLPA that they will be grieving our right to take this action," Reid said. "Therefore there is nothing more that I can stay at this point. I don't want to bring any other players into this. It's my decision. I don't want to get into the T.O. situation. . . . I believe truly that it's a team sport. I expect guys to play together and support each other. We took a step forward as a team yesterday and I expect it to continue the rest of the year."
An NFL spokesman said the league would not comment on the Eagles' decision to suspend Owens, saying only that it was "a club matter." Reid reportedly informed Owens of the Eagles' decision at about 2:30 p.m. yesterday in a brief telephone call.
Owens was not immediately available to comment. His friend, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, now an ESPN commentator, said on an ESPN broadcast last night that he had spoken to Owens earlier in the day and that "he was disappointed he couldn't get the opportunity to apologize to his teammates."
In 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers disciplined wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for publicly criticizing Coach Jon Gruden by placing him on the inactive list for the final six games of the season. But Johnson was never suspended by the team and was paid his entire contract. No grievance was filed, and Johnson was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for the 2004 season.
Owens, acquired by Philadelphia before the 2004 season, has been attempting to get the Eagles to renegotiate the final six years of his seven-year, $49 million contract that will be pay him $3.25 million this season, or about $203,000 per game. His agent, Miami-based Drew Rosenhaus, declined to comment on the Eagles' decision to end Owens's season.
Owens earned about $9 million from the Eagles in 2004, his first year with the team, and had a huge game in the team's loss to New England in the Super Bowl in February. He had suffered a broken ankle late in the season but managed to recover in time to play in the final game of the year. His contract also calls for him to earn a $5 million roster bonus from the Eagles in March 2006, though he likely will either be traded or cut by then.
One NFL personnel executive said yesterday that Owens "will find a job once he's on the open market, whenever that is. He's a tremendous talent. Keyshawn found a job under similar circumstances, but with the baggage [Owens] brings, no one is going to give him the kind of money he and Drew are looking for, at least not without a whole lot of strings attached."
Owens also has been verbally sparring with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in recent weeks, though it hasn't kept him from remaining as McNabb's favorite passing target this season. Owens, considered by some to be the most physically talented receiver in the league, led the Eagles with 47 receptions, six for touchdowns, and averaged 16.2 yards per catch in his first seven games this season.
After Sunday night's loss, McNabb said "obviously it's tough losing a guy of his caliber, of his ability, but we might be better off. We're 4-4, not 1-7. It's important for the guys in the locker room to understand we win together and we lose together."