WHAT CAN we learn from the Terrell Owens--Philadelphia Eagles soap opera so far? Think twice before trying to renegotiate a contract with the Eagles.
Owens, unhappy that the team won't redo his seven-year, $49 million contract one year after he gladly signed it, last week said he would report to training camp when veterans are due this Monday--but he wouldn't be happy about it. According to an Eagles source, that came after Owens had called coach Andy Reid and said he might be divisive if he came to camp without a new contract. The source said Reid responded by telling Owens he didn't believe the wideout had it in him to go through drills halfheartedly. (The last public comment from the team was president Joe Banner telling the Philadelphia Daily News last week that Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, "don't think in commonsense terms.")
Here's a player who got his March 2004 trade from the San Francisco 49ers to the Baltimore Ravens voided, begged to be dealt instead to the Super Bowl--contending Eagles, earned $9.16 million in salary and bonuses in his first season, and then asked for a new contract with $11.77 million due him in 2005 and '06 combined. So it's hard to take Owens at his word. But whether he's at camp this week or not, don't look for the Eagles to make anything more than perhaps a cosmetic change--guaranteeing an incentive, for example--to the contract. "More than any other team in the league, you don't bully the Eagles," says the vice president of another NFL team. "Their way works, and they won't change for any player."
Last year at training camp Owens was a model citizen--kissing babies, glad-handing sponsors and doing whatever else he could to rehab a reputation damaged by the selfishness he displayed late in his eight-year career with the 49ers. After he caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns, Owens injured his right ankle and missed the final two regular-season games and two playoff games, then made a dramatic return in the Super Bowl. This year he's due to make $3.25 million in base salary and $250,000 in makeable incentives--low for a player of his ability, but contracts of many stars contain a heavy payout in the first year and are light in the second. The next big payoff for Owens was wisely arranged by Philadelphia to come in the third year. The Eagles figured that after two seasons, they would have a handle on whether Owens was going to be a positive long-term asset.
If the Eagles choose to release or trade Owens during or after this season, they wouldn't have to pay him $7.5 million in bonuses in 2006. They could use that money to entice a free-agent receiver, such as Nate Burleson of the Vikings or Reggie Wayne of the Colts, who might be less talented than Owens but also less troublesome. --Peter King