Eagles knew T.O. spelled trouble

Updated: August 11, 2005, 1:13 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

In retrospect, Terrell Owens should have followed through on his threat to hold out of training camp. By showing up and having a verbal fight with coach Andy Reid that caused him to leave the Philadelphia Eagles camp Wednesday, Owens did a disservice to himself and the Eagles.

The Eagles knew Owens could be trouble. They put clauses in his $49 million to protect themselves for situations like Wednesday. According to his contract, Owens could be forced to pay back $1.725 million of his $2.3 million signing bonus if he's involved in any incident that is considered conduct detrimental to the team.

Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens exchanged his helmet for headphones after being asked to leave Eagles camp Wednesday.

Clearly, a verbal fight with his head coach is conduct detrimental. Supposedly, Owens was suspended for refusing to attend a mandatory autograph session, and for practicing away from the rest of the team. That was violation of his contract because it clearly states he has to do some mandatory signings.

Whether he was told to go home or left on his own Wednesday is irrelevant. Owens' attitude kept getting worse as camp dragged on. Quarterback Donovan McNabb said last week his relationship with Owens was businesslike, a clear dropoff from the good relationship of a year ago.

Owens went his way after practice. McNabb went another way. It's similar to the way Owens reacted with Jeff Garcia before Owens had some blowups with his former 49ers quarterback. Owens and McNabb are two of the best offensive talents in the game. They don't have to be buddy-buddy to be successful on the field.

But, by showing up and getting the one-week suspension, Owens is only causing his problems with the team to bubble over. Pretty soon, it's going to be hard for McNabb and the offense to accept him back.

The problem for the Eagles is that the team needs Owens more than ever. Todd Pinkston is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Greg Lewis is too short to be asked to be the other starter. Lewis is a great inside threat because of his great speed. Second-round choice Reggie Brown has to come through just to make the three-receiver set work, but it's going to be hard for the Eagles to think Super Bowl if Lewis and Brown are the starters.

Something has to be done to patch this relationship. A suggestion would be telling Owens what is probably ahead for him after the season. While the Eagles can't let Owens win by having his way in getting a new contract or his release, the two sides need to part ways after the season. He has a $7.5 million roster bonus that was purposely negotiated as a way to either firm up the relationship or simply say two years was enough.

Telling Owens this will be his final year in Philadelphia could be the settlement of the differences. First, Owens would get what he wants free agency and a chance at a bigger contract. Second, this wouldn't be a contract renegotiation. It's just making a decision. For the Eagles, Owens creates too many distractions for the relationship to go beyond two years.

Pinkston's injury leaves the Eagles in a tough spot. They need Owens if they want to be in the NFC title game. They have to get through this year and then say goodbye to him.

It's management's job to provide leadership and direction. Owens' direction with the Eagles is clearly heading out the door. So tell him. Tell T.O. to be on his best behavior the rest of the season and let him start making plans for the future.

In the meantime, the Eagles can start shopping for replacements. Maybe they can make a trade with the Falcons for Peerless Price, who doesn't have a long future in Atlanta as a $5 million-a-year third receiver. Price is a very good second receiver. It didn't work in Atlanta for him being a No. 1 receiver, but he could be a good No. 2 for the Eagles.

The Eagles got a steal when they got Owens for two second-day draft choices. His presence in the offense helped propel them to their first Super Bowl under Reid. But good things can turn bad and the problems only get worse for Owens in Philadelphia.

If Owens knows he is a free agent after the season, he can focus on his game and help the Eagles win. The situation wouldn't be this ugly had Owens simply stayed out camp. Owens wouldn't be in a position to lose $1.725 million. The Eagles wouldn't have such a disrupted training camp.

Holdouts normally aren't good. Under the circumstances, though, an Owens holdout would have made life a little easier for Eagles in their Lehigh training camp.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer