Owens cools on thought of being a Raven

Reversing prior statement, receiver says he doesn't see himself playing here

He'll keep fighting to be free agent

Union requests arbiter in attempt to nullify trade

March 09, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens can only hope Terrell Owens changes direction on the field as quickly as he changes his mind off of it.

A day after saying he could envision himself in a Ravens uniform, the temperamental Pro Bowl receiver reversed his ground in a statement yesterday.

"So that there is no misunderstanding, regardless of what happens with the grievance, under the present circumstances I do not see myself playing for the Ravens," said Owens, who is trying to rescind his trade to the Ravens.

"I can assure everyone that I will continue to keep fighting for my right to play for the team of my choice even after the grievance. At the end of this process, I simply want to be able to exercise my right to play for a team of my choosing under a deal that is fair to me and my family."

Owens, who was traded Thursday from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second-round draft pick, wants to become an unrestricted free agent so he can play for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The NFL Players Association has officially decided to file a special-master case to try to nullify the trade, a spokesman for the players' union said yesterday.

The case, which will be settled in a trial-like proceeding, likely will occur next week at the earliest. The union has little chance of undoing the trade because it will concede that Owens' agent made a mistake by failing to file the paperwork in time to make him an unrestricted free agent, according to several league sources.

When asked if his attempts to gain free agency would fail, Owens told WCAU-TV in Philadelphia on Sunday, "If it comes down to the point where I can't win, I'll be a Raven." He later said, "I can picture [myself in the Eagles' uniform], but at the same time, I can still picture me being in a Ravens uniform as well."

While Owens has built a reputation of being unpredictable -- from sideline tirades to over-the-top touchdown celebrations -- the Ravens have remained constant in their belief Owens will play for them this season and become the big-play receiver they have desperately sought for years. Because Owens is reluctant to take a physical with his case pending, the Ravens are prepared to waive that provision of the deal to finalize the trade whenever the NFL presents them with a deadline.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach Brian Billick declined to comment on the situation yesterday.

"This is a matter between the league and union right now," team spokesman Chad Steele said. "We can't do anything until we hear back from the ruling."

While Owens isn't expected to meet with the Ravens anytime soon, the Ravens will have their first free-agent visit of the year, bringing in offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam today.

Salaam, 27, is a six-year starter with the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons. As the left tackle with Denver last year, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound veteran allowed just 4 1/2 sacks and committed no holding penalties.

He was cut by the Broncos before he could receive a $5 million roster bonus.

It was only a week ago when the Ravens believed they were close to a deal with Orlando Brown, last year's starter at right tackle. But Brown, 33, who is known for his mean streak, has shopped himself by visiting the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins, forcing the Ravens to look elsewhere.

"It's part of the process," Billick said. "We're still in negotiations with Orlando. Until they want to show more progress in resolving that, we have to pursue our options. I'm excited about having Salaam in here. I think he would be a good fit."

Filling the void at right tackle is expected to go faster and smoother than the one at receiver.

Stephen Burbank, the arbiter who will hear Owens' case, is in Malibu, Calif., until Monday, according to a voice message at his University of Pennsylvania Law School office.

The professor for the administration of justice at the Philadelphia-based school, Burbank is in charge of settling disputes regarding the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. Any decision by Burbank would be subject to review by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty. This is Burbank's first case.

Owens was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent before his agent, David Joseph, missed a deadline last month to void the final three seasons of his current contract. The 49ers then traded him to the Ravens after Owens believed he had reached a long-term deal with the Eagles.

"First and foremost, I believe that I properly voided the remaining years on my contract," Owens said. "However, as a possible resolution to this dispute, I agreed to try and work out a new deal with a team of my choice that would be backed up by a trade with the 49ers. I was promised that no trade would be made until I completed such a deal. Unfortunately, all of the teams did not adhere to this agreement and we now have an even bigger mess."

The players' union is expected to argue Owens should be ruled a free agent because both the 49ers and Owens were aware of his intentions to leave the team after the season. If the trade is overturned, Owens would become a free agent and the Ravens would get back their second-round pick.

"We have found some ways to support Terrell's argument," said Carl Francis, the director of communications for the NFL Players Association.

In a statement released yesterday, the union claimed the 49ers "had the required notice of Owens' intent" to void his contract.

M. Robinson leaves

Free-agent receiver Marcus Robinson leaves the Ravens, agreeing to a four-year contract with the Vikings. Page 2E.

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