Arbitrator Richard Bloch heard arguments in the Terrell Owens case yesterday in a day-long hearing in Philadelphia that ended after 11:30 p.m. The hearing began after settlement talks failed to produce a last-minute compromise, and there was no decision in the case last night.
A union official said Bloch is expected to give a ruling by Tuesday.
Bloch is to rule on the grievance that the NFL Players Association filed on Owens's behalf last week contesting the Philadelphia Eagles' decision to suspend and deactivate the controversial wide receiver.
The hearing took place at an airport hotel, where Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, arrived around 9 a.m. A lawyer involved in the hearing said during an evening break that opening arguments lasted from 9:45 a.m. until around 1 p.m., then the parties broke for lunch. By the evening break, the lawyer said, only one witness -- Eagles Coach Andy Reid -- had spoken.
The lawyer said that settlement discussions had taken place, but he did not feel that the sides ever were close to a deal.
It was unclear whether the settlement talks, which apparently took place with Bloch's encouragement, could be revived. Any settlement probably would involve Owens dropping his grievance in exchange for a pledge by the Eagles not to attempt to force him to return any signing-bonus money.
After Owens criticized the team's front office and quarterback Donovan McNabb in a televised interview 16 days ago, one day after reportedly getting into a locker-room scuffle with former Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas, the club suspended him for four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the team. The Eagles also indicated that Owens would be paid but deactivated for the remainder of the season after his suspension ends.
The suspension would cost Owens about $800,000 of his $3.25 million salary for this season. In addition, a clause in his contract might enable the Eagles to force him to return about $1.7 million of signing-bonus money.
The union maintains that the deactivation is excessive punishment because the maximum penalty for conduct detrimental to the team under the sport's collective bargaining agreement is a four-game suspension without pay. The union planned to ask Bloch to force the Eagles to release Owens, making him eligible to sign with another team, if they don't want to activate him after the suspension.
It long has been expected that the Eagles would release Owens after this season, so a promise to cut him at some point also could be part of a potential settlement.
It was a settlement of a case that the union took before NFL special master Stephen Burbank that got Owens to the Eagles in the first place. In a dispute over Owens's free-agent status, the league maintained that the San Francisco 49ers had the right to trade Owens to the Baltimore Ravens, while Owens and the union contended that the trade was not valid and he should have been a free agent. The union made a persuasive case before Burbank, who apparently was prepared to declare Owens a free agent before the parties reached a settlement that placed Owens with the team of his choosing, the Eagles.