- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Terrell Owens believes he should have been on the other sideline for Sunday night's Hall of Fame Game.
Owens, the controversial receiver with Hall of Fame credentials who recently signed a one-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, said he was "prematurely let go" after three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He's convinced that Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones didn't really want to release him in the spring of 2009, but Owens declined to discuss what he perceives to be the real reasons behind the decision.
"A lot of people know what happened," Owens said Sunday morning at the Bengals' hotel in Cleveland. "It was a tough decision for Jerry. I think if Jerry had the ultimate decision, then I would be there. By no means do I feel that I left that team because of talent. Obviously, there have to be some other factors.
"Other than that, I feel confident about myself and what I can still do on the football field even at the age of 36."
Jones has claimed that chemistry issues didn't factor into his decision to cut Owens less than a year after the receiver signed a four-year, $34 million contract extension. But as had been the case in San Francisco and Philadelphia, there was well-chronicled friction between the outspoken Owens and his quarterback and offensive coordinator during his final season in Dallas.
"You have to take the bitter with the sweet, and you move on," Owens said. "Do I think I should probably be there? Yeah. But that's not the case."
Quarterback Tony Romo preferred to focus on the positives Sunday morning when asked about Owens.
"It was a good time," said Romo, who later made a remark that he wasn't a general manager. "We didn't achieve the ultimate goal obviously of winning the Super Bowl, but we still had good seasons. We still had steps that this organization took to go in the right direction."
The Cowboys, who entered the 2008 season as a popular Super Bowl pick, lost three of their final four games to fail to make the playoffs. The tension between Owens and Romo dominated the headlines during the December swoon, a firestorm that started when Owens and other receivers met with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to complain about Romo's preference to throw to tight end Jason Witten after an interception that sealed a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"There's no turning back or going back or redoing anything," Owens said Sunday of his tenure with the Cowboys, when he caught 235 passes for 3,587 yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons. "Again, I still stand by the things that I said and what was done. I know that honestly it wasn't my fault."
Owens refused to reveal Sunday who he thought influenced Jones to make the decision to release him, saying he'd been down that road before. He said he's bothered by the perception that his presence was disruptive in the Cowboys' locker room, saying the situation was blown out of proportion.
Several Cowboys still consider Owens a close friend. About an hour after Owens' media session, Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman described Owens as "a role model teammate."
When the Bengals and Cowboys crossed paths at the Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon, several former teammates greeted Owens with hugs and handshakes.
"The guys in that locker room, they know," Owens said. "It was an eerie feeling, a good feeling, to see a lot of the guys come and embrace me as they walked into the Hall yesterday. That shows you right there that they know it wasn't me."
Owens spent last season with the Buffalo Bills. Playing with three different quarterbacks, he caught 55 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns, his worst production for a full season in a decade.
With Miles Austin emerging as a Pro Bowl receiver, Romo experienced arguably his best season in the NFL. He set a franchise record with 4,483 passing yards, threw for 26 touchdowns and drastically reduced his turnover total to lead the Cowboys to the NFC East title and their first playoff win in 12 seasons.
Owens discussed at length several topics during his 32-minute conversation with reporters Sunday morning, including his relationships with Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco and quarterback Carson Palmer, his optimism about the 2010 season and the uncertainty about whether this will be the last season in his career. Owens continued talking after a Bengals public relations official interrupted the session to give Owens the opportunity to leave.
But Owens had only a brief answer when asked if his relationship with Romo had reached the point where they needed to part ways.
"I don't know," Owens said. "I don't really have too much to say about that."
Owens finished with two receptions for 18 yards in a short stint for during Sunday night's 16-7 loss to the Cowboys.
5hBy Ian O'Connor
1dEric D. Williams