Deal for Owens derailed

Ravens come up empty as playmaker gets wish, and $42M Eagles contract

`We'll move ahead,' Billick says

Team receives draft picks in second, fifth rounds, but TD closet again is bare

March 17, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - As Terrell Owens celebrated his signing with the Philadelphia Eagles - minus the Sharpies and pompoms - the Ravens were left contemplating how the Pro Bowl receiver slipped through their grasp.

The Ravens' tumultuous two-week saga with Owens ended with a stunning twist yesterday when an unprecedented settlement between the NFL Management Council and the players union sent Owens to Philadelphia for the Eagles' fifth-round pick.

The three-team trade resolved Owens' petition to rescind his March 4 trade to the Ravens before a Philadelphia-based arbiter's ruling. The agreement also returned the Ravens' second-round selection from San Francisco and shipped defensive end Brandon Whiting from the Eagles to the 49ers.

But a flight of fancy for nearly everyone involved - from Owens to the Eagles to the 49ers - turned into a crash landing for the Ravens. In a matter of 12 days, the Ravens went from being assured of having one of the game's top playmakers to being compensated with the 155th overall pick.

When asked if the Ravens were fairly compensated, coach Brian Billick said, "What's fair and what's right can be two different things. Yeah, I think we were injured in this process, as were our fans. We tried to do this the right way at every turn. We were told by the management council that we were within our rights and now it goes the other way. To so summarily be dismissed, it's disappointing. It's very frustrating.

"But we'll move ahead. We always have a backup plan and we'll put that in effect."

The mood was drastically different nearly 90 miles up the interstate at Owens' news conference inside the Eagles' complex.

Resplendent in a gray suit, Owens playfully corrected Andy Reid about mispronouncing his first name and later joked that the Eagles coach secretly enjoyed his touchdown antics.

"I left a lot of memories in San Francisco," said Owens, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract that included a signing bonus of approximately $10 million, "but my heart is in Philly."

Owens, who refused to report to the Ravens for a physical all month, needed only six hours to fly into Philadelphia despite the inclement weather.

The mercurial playmaker did try to set the record straight about his decision to stiff-arm the Ravens.

"It wasn't a matter of anything wrong with Baltimore," Owens said. "My thing was getting my shot at free agency. I have no hard feelings toward the fans or organization in Baltimore."

Those feelings may not be reciprocal because the Ravens were the ones that lost the most in this settlement.

The Eagles got their coveted receiver. The 49ers got their targeted lineman. And the Ravens got the fifth-to-last pick in the fifth round.

To make matters worse, a thin free-agent market for receivers is essentially bare.

During their ordeal with Owens, the Ravens missed out on re-signing Marcus Robinson, their leader last year with six touchdown catches. They missed out on pursuing Darrell Jackson. They missed out on the trade talks for David Boston.

"Had Terrell been a free agent from the get-go, he represented the only substantial move we could make in top-end free agency to better the team," Billick said. "Outside of his presence, there wasn't anybody out there. We'll now wait as we've done very successfully to see what comes available over the next couple of months.

"In that sense, we're kind of where we were before. But it's still nonetheless disappointing because clearly there are fewer options available to us now."

The Ravens received assurances from league officials that the NFL would prevail in the arbitration hearing. Then, after Monday's proceedings at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the league's stance was weakened when the players union presented a persuasive, strong case for Owens' free agency. The union's lawyers said the early deadline to void contracts didn't apply to Owens because he signed his 49ers contract before the 3-year-old amendment went into effect.

The sides initiated settlement talks late Monday and reached a compromise yesterday morning before arbitrator Stephen Burbank announced his decision.

"We are pleased that all the parties involved were willing to compromise and come to a reasonable settlement of a complicated situation," said Harold Henderson, NFL executive vice president of labor relations. "This settlement resolves the dispute in a manner which satisfies all involved parties."

The Ravens' biggest gain may be an incentive.

The Ravens will finally get to meet Owens later this year because they are scheduled to play at Philadelphia this season. The NFL schedule will be announced next month.

"It will probably be motivation for somebody on this team, him saying he didn't want to be here," Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown said.

Owens' prevailing in this situation shouldn't be surprising in retrospect. This offseason arguably could go down as the most difficult in the franchise's eight-year history.

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