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Eagles Land Owens Before Ruling Issued

March 17, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Just a few hours into his first day with the Philadelphia Eagles, the combustible Terrell Owens had his first public clash with Coach Andy Reid.

It was at a news conference, and Reid was sitting behind a table with Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Eagles, and Owens, the four-time Pro Bowl receiver who'd arrived Tuesday after a three-way trade also involving San Francisco and Baltimore. The coach was complimenting his new player.

"We're very happy to have him here. I think TerrELL said it best

"It's TERRell," interrupted Owens, whose first name rhymes with Darrell.

"That's what I meant: TERRell," Reid said, forcing a chuckle. "We'll get it straight. It's T.O."

What's a little awkward correction to a coach who has lived with the misery of a third consecutive loss in the NFC championship game? Long before their 14-3 loss to Carolina two months ago, when their wide receivers were staggeringly ineffective, the Eagles understood the importance of upgrading at that position. That's why they put such effort into landing Owens, whom they signed to a seven-year deal reportedly worth $42 million, with $10 million in first-year guaranteed money.

Owens' Philadelphia freedom didn't come easy. As part of the three-way deal, the 49ers received Philadelphia defensive end Brandon Whiting, and the Ravens got the Eagles' fifth-round draft pick as well as the second-round selection Baltimore originally had sent to San Francisco for Owens, who spent eight sometimes tumultuous seasons with the 49ers.

The teams hashed out an agreement just before a league-appointed arbitrator was to issue his ruling on whether Owens should become a free agent.

"If the arbitrator ruled he was a free agent, he could have gone anywhere," said Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Assn. "This was the Eagles assuring he came to them."

A source familiar with the negotiations said the Ravens also were concerned that they wouldn't get Owens, even if they'd won in arbitration, believing the player would have dragged out the impasse with court appeals.

Overseeing the arbitration was Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, who is authorized as special master to settle disputes involving the NFL free-agency and salary-cap systems.

Owens got what he wanted despite a blunder by his agent, David Joseph, who failed to file papers voiding the final years of the player's San Francisco contract by a Feb. 21 deadline.

The 49ers, who were planning to allow Owens to become a free agent anyway, suddenly were in position to receive compensation for him. They traded the four-time Pro Bowl receiver to Baltimore, even though Owens had agreed to a deal with the Eagles -- the same one he eventually signed.

Owens protested the trade to the Ravens, and the union filed a grievance to make him a free agent.

"There wasn't a day that went by when, somehow, we all didn't hope that this could be the outcome," Lurie said of his Eagles. "But it was out of our hands."

Owens might have struck an even better deal had he gotten the chance to test the free-agent market, considering he's among the league's premier playmakers.

"He'll never know what his true market value was in free agency," said agent Leigh Steinberg, who has represented some of the NFL's best players during the last two decades. "Because nothing ever approximates the auction-like effect of the free market. If Philadelphia, Baltimore and potential other suitors were actually competing economically, who knows what the exponential economic effect might be?"

Ostensibly, the Ravens are hurt most by Tuesday's events. They now have an extra fifth-round pick but no clear path to improving their unspectacular collection of receivers.

"In good faith, we made a trade [for Owens] that was approved by the NFL, and we thought we had a valid contract with T.O.," Raven General Manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Owens finished last season with 80 catches, his fewest since 1999, and missed the season finale -- and his fourth Pro Bowl game -- because of a broken collarbone. He is known not only for his great catches but his bizarre touchdown celebrations, such as a midfield dance on the Texas Stadium star, a pom-pom shaking shimmy in San Francisco, and producing a Sharpie from his sock in Seattle and autographing the football in the end zone.

"My character's definitely been an issue as far as, will I fit in? How will I mesh with the coaches, my teammates?" Owens said. "We've talked, and [Reid] has explained his structure. I'm very aware of that and I understand that."

No doubt Owens will explain his ground rules too. Starting with the correct pronunciation of his first name.

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(Begin Text of Infobox)

Welcome Addition

With the acquisition of Terrell Owens, the Eagles have upgraded what has been a sore spot in recent seasons. Last season, Owens had his worst statistical season since 1999 and still almost outperformed the Eagles' starting duo:

*--* Players Team Rec. Yards Avg. TDs Terrell Owens San Francisco 80 1,102 13.8 9 James Thrash, Todd Pinkston Philadelphia 85 1,133 13.3 3

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