Ravens latch onto Owens

Former All-Pro acquired for 2nd-round draft pick

Deal contingent on physical

Team outbids Eagles for controversial wide-out

Terrell Owens Trade

March 05, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens completed what could become the signature acquisition of their season yesterday.

Filling the biggest void on the team, the Ravens traded their second-round pick in this year's NFL draft to the San Francisco 49ers for former All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens. The deal is contingent on the controversial star's passing a physical, which may be conducted as late as Monday.

His Hall of Fame ability transforms the Ravens into legitimate Super Bowl contenders. His infamous antics - from autographing a ball on the field after a touchdown to berating his offensive coordinator on the sideline - raise some concerns.

But it was a gamble the Ravens were willing to take, moving swiftly in two days to grab one of the game's premier wide-outs.

"Clearly since I've been here - notwithstanding Shannon Sharpe - this is the most significant free-agent signing we've made," said coach Brian Billick, who enters his sixth season with the Ravens. "We've been trying to address this issue since the day I got here."

A four-time Pro Bowl player, the player known as "T.O." is expected to make a major impact on the Ravens' passing game, which ranked last in the NFL last season.

During the past four seasons, he has averaged 93 catches, 1,316 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last season, the Ravens' entire wide receiver corps totaled 85 receptions for 1,265 yards and nine touchdowns.

"He's one of the few receivers with size [6 feet 3, 226 pounds] that has the chance to score on every play," receivers coach David Shaw said. "This guy has shown he can break tackles and then have that extra gear and desire to score a touchdown every time he catches a ball. That's something that the entire team feeds off of."

For an offseason dampened by Jamal Lewis' legal problems, the Ravens made a splash yesterday as a result of Owens' misfortune.

Owens, 30, was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason but missed a deadline last month to void the final three seasons of his current deal. A league source said the Ravens wouldn't have pursued Owens in free agency because he would have commanded a signing bonus in the $20 million range.

With the Ravens having to pick up only his yearly salary in a trade ($5.3 million this season), they became the most active team in pursuing him, ultimately outbidding the Philadelphia Eagles.

Because the Eagles were unwilling to give up their first-round selection, the Ravens came out on top because their second-round choice (51st overall) sits seven spots higher than the Eagles' (58th). Now, the Ravens' first pick in the draft won't come until the third round (88th overall selection).

Trading for Owens also seems to eliminate the chance of the team re-signing Marcus Robinson.

"We feel like giving up a second-round pick for somebody that has performed the way he has in the last four years was very equitable value," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I don't think we would have got someone who could impact our team as much as T.O. could with the 51st pick."

The Ravens are required to pay only Owens' base salaries over the final three years of his contract, giving him $5.3 million this year, $5.9 million in 2005 and $6.5 million in 2006.

To avoid any possible difficulties with Owens over his contract - because he had expected to land a big signing bonus as a free agent - the Ravens have begun talks to reach a new deal with him. But because he is under contract for three years, the Ravens have all the leverage.

If his contract isn't reworked, there is a risk of Owens' holding out of training camp in protest. Owens' agent, David Joseph, did not return phone calls.

"I can't anticipate what Terrell and his agent are going to do," Newsome said. "As everyone knows, there are holdouts in this league. All I am hoping for is that he is playing one of those receiver positions in that first game."

The only problems the Ravens wanted to focus on yesterday were the ones that will be created for opposing defenses. Owens is viewed as the perfect complement to Lewis, the NFL's rushing champion.

If teams focus more on Lewis, they will have to risk relying on single coverage on Owens. If teams double Owens on the outside, Lewis will have fewer defenders stacking the line of scrimmage.

"We're still going to see eight in the box," Billick said, "but they're going to be real nervous about it when they do."

The nervousness surrounding this deal is how Owens will affect team chemistry.

His touchdown celebrations have made him a magnet to controversy.

He started a brawl after striking a pose on the Dallas Cowboys' logo at midfield and sparked a nationwide debate when he pulled a Sharpie pen from his right sock and autographed a football after making the eventual winning touchdown catch.

Riffs were also caused by his no-shows.

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