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This Eagle Is Grounded

Philadelphia suspends Owens without pay for the next three games and then will deactivate him.

November 08, 2005|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The Philadelphia Eagles cut ties with Terrell Owens on Monday -- removing the possibility of his returning this season -- and now the focus shifts to where the talented but disruptive receiver might wind up next.

Two days after suspending him for Sunday night's game at Washington -- which the Eagles lost, 17-10 -- Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid announced that Owens was suspended without pay for the next three games then would be deactivated for the rest of the season. Reid said the decision was made as "a result of a large number of situations that accumulated over a long period of time."

After the defeat at Washington, Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb said the team might be "better off" without Owens, whose latest transgressions included exchanging swings with former teammate and "team ambassador" Hugh Douglas in the training room last week, allegedly challenging teammates to fight him if they wanted, and publicly criticizing McNabb and the organization in an interview with ESPN.com.

Owens later apologized for his remarks, but, apparently, his recent actions amounted to the last straw.

"The guys in the locker room have to understand that we win together and lose together," McNabb said.

Owens is scheduled to make $3.25 million this season, meaning the four-game suspension will cost him more than $800,000. He is due a $5-million roster bonus in March, so it's almost certain the Eagles will trade or release him by then.

The NFL Players Assn. has filed a grievance with the league on behalf of Owens, presumably over the severity of the punishment. Representatives of the players' union could not be reached for comment.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an NFL personnel executive said Owens' antics might "cost him millions" in future earnings.

"I won't touch him," the executive said. "So many teams are buying into that Patriots' model of character over ability. Is it worth ruining the chemistry of a team to deal with that headache week in and week out?"

Because Owens is so talented, many believe he will have at least a few suitors willing to add him to their roster next season. Possible candidates include Oakland, Denver, Atlanta and Houston.

The Raiders have a history of signing talented renegades who have been rejected by the rest of the NFL. But the team already has millions tied up in receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, and probably would be unwilling to sign Owens, who will have little bargaining leverage, for more than a bargain-basement, one-year deal.

In Denver, the Broncos have to prepare for a future without their top receiver, 35-year-old Rod Smith. Coach Mike Shanahan has taken on some difficult players before -- notably cornerback Dale Carter, defensive tackle Chester McGlockton and running back Maurice Clarett -- but bringing in Owens would be his riskiest move by far.

When he was in San Francisco, Owens played for a few coaches now with the Falcons: Coach Jim Mora, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and receiver coach George Stewart. But team President Rich McKay came from Tampa Bay, where he had to deal with Keyshawn Johnson, who was deactivated for the last six games of the 2003 season, also for conduct detrimental to the team.

Houston, 1-7 and lacking a dominant receiver, could be willing to take a "shot in the dark" with Owens, the executive speculated, "but this is a very tight league, as far as personnel people go. Word spreads real quick."

Another personnel executive said teams that are close, maybe one great player away from a Super Bowl season, might take a chance on Owens. He said Kansas City or Washington might be one of those.

The Eagles are 17-5 with Owens, including a 24-21 loss to New England in the Super Bowl in February. In that game, Owens, choosing to play 6 1/2 weeks after ankle surgery and against the advice of his doctors, caught nine passes for 122 yards.

There are some parallels between Owens' situation and that of Miami running back Ricky Williams, who made amends with his teammates this summer, a year after going AWOL from the team and sitting out the 2004 season. But Williams' agent, Leigh Steinberg, said Owens would have a much more difficult time recovering from his missteps with the Eagles.

"Loyalty and watching each other's back is a critical hallmark of life in the NFL," Steinberg said. "To publicly undercut the starting quarterback in the midst of a heated playoff race breaks that code in a fundamental way. Because the player has stepped outside of the family. Instead of watching the back and forming an unbreakable unit, the player has broken that chain of trust."

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