Oh, T.O., we hardly knew you -- but it's just as well

March 17, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THE RAVENS went to the altar yesterday, took a really good look at their partner, and called off the wedding. Beauty was no longer in the eyes of the beholder.

The Ravens caved in at the last minute in Philadelphia, effectively nullifying a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for receiver Terrell Owens, allowing Owens to go to the Eagles.

For all their troubles, patience, blow-hard attitude and stubbornness, the Ravens came away with their second-round draft pick back along with a fifth-round selection. They still have the league's worst passing offense and a huge void at receiver, but they came out ahead despite themselves.

They don't have a big-mouth, egotistical receiver whose off-the-cuff remarks and over-the-top touchdown celebrations might have been a major distraction in the locker room. And, they avoided financial difficulties in the future with such Pro Bowl selections as inside linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"We went in thinking we had a great chance, and learned that we virtually had no chance," said Ravens new majority owner Steve Bisciotti. "I think our thinking was pretty clear-cut, and Ozzie [Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome] and Brian [coach Brian Billick] realized it was better to end up with a fifth than to lose everything."

"I had mixed emotions from the beginning because I was bothered by some of his comments about the city," said team consultant Art Modell of Owens. "I can tell you what, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."

Nobody should lose any sleep over Owens. The Ravens made the right move in trying to bring him to Baltimore. He could have been the missing piece because he is a phenomenal talent - the big, go-to receiver this team desperately needs. He might have been the ultimate head case, but the NFL is full of them.

But if the trade went through in the Ravens' favor, then they would have had to tear up the last two years of Owens' contract and sign him to a new, lucrative one. And if the Ravens were going to do that for Owens, then they would eventually have to do that for Lewis and Ogden.

The Ravens already were concerned about the amount of the signing bonus to offer Owens because Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, the designated franchise player for the second straight year, would want significantly more. Owens received a seven-year contract with Philadelphia worth $42 million, which reportedly included a $10 million signing bonus.

"To sign T.O. would open up a big can of worms," said a Ravens team source. "No. 52 [Lewis] would be the next guy through the door, and then J.O. [Ogden] would be next, both of them holding out their hands. This is a team loaded with Pro Bowl players. A lot of them have been here their entire careers. There definitely would have been some financial ramifications from an outsider like T.O."

And then there was the chemistry issue.

Owens would have eventually ruined it. He may not have been a problem in six months or a year, but he would have caused turmoil. Knuckleheads like him, who curse out coaches and quarterbacks on the sidelines, can't help themselves. The Ravens knew they had to keep him on a leash, one about as long as a rubber band.

The Ravens, under Billick, have always had good team chemistry. They might have had eight Pro Bowl players last season, but only one superstar in Lewis. Their chemistry is much like that of the New England Patriots, who have won two of the past three Super Bowls, and the Carolina Panthers, the defending NFC champions.

But now the Ravens don't have to deal with the T.O. headache. We didn't get to know him well, but one second was one second too much. Almost everyone in Baltimore disliked him: the fans, the media and the Boy Scouts. The Ravens should be red-faced because they kept pursuing him and putting a positive spin on it.

Newsome thought that his background as a Hall of Fame player might have persuaded Owens to play in Baltimore. Billick thought the Ravens had enough character guys and structure in place to change him. Both of them said they were prepared to fight this grievance all the way.

And then they took a dive. One punch, out.

Sometimes, hair dryers don't blow as much hot air as Billick and Newsome.

But the Ravens made out OK. Owens basically just cost them some time and embarrassment. He was the best receiver available on the market. The Ravens might have missed out on some others, but they weren't in Owens' class. They weren't going to make defensive coordinators lose any sleep.

In the end, the Ravens traded a franchise player for a fifth-round draft pick. Their first two picks in the April draft will almost certainly be receivers. Their receiving corps is virtually the same group - minus Marcus Robinson - that last year couldn't get open because of deficient skills and poorly designed plays.

But down the road, the loss of T.O. will be a blessing. He didn't want to be in Baltimore, and Baltimoreans didn't want him here. Farewell.

There'll be a divorce in Philadelphia soon.

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