Will Owens play this weekend?
Will Terrell Owens play this weekend? Will the Cowboys take any action against Owens? John Clayton tries to answer some of the questions.
The strange Terrell Owens story probably left more questions than answers. Though initial police reports indicate Owens attempted suicide, he gave an in-depth and possibly believable explanation that he had an allergic reaction to a combination of pain medication and supplements. While others delve into the psychological aspects of Owens, let's take a few minutes to look at the football implications of what happened Wednesday.
Q: Do the Cowboys believe Owens?
A: No question, and they showed their support through the front office's actions. They let him come to team headquarters at Valley Ranch and go out on the field to work with quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Tony Romo. By doing that, the Cowboys lost a lot of leverage if they wanted to fine him, suspend him, or bar him from the club. Bill Parcells could have told Owens to stay away for a day and allowed him an excused absence to sort out his personal life. Instead, the Cowboys treated Owens like an employee who had an explainable emergency room visit. It wouldn't be totally surprising if they fined him for missing a meeting, but the fine would be a minor one and I really wouldn't expect them to do that.
Q: What action could the Cowboys take if they believe Owens attempted suicide and they wanted to break their three-year, $25 million contract with him?
A: Those options were pretty much exhausted once they let Owens back on the practice field. Had the Cowboys told him to stay away, they would have had the option of placing him on the non-football injury list, giving them the option of either paying or not paying his salary. They also could have given him a team suspension of four games for conduct detrimental to the team. Those moves would have given the Cowboys the ability to go after $294,000 ($5 million base salary divided by 17 weeks) for each week Owens didn't play. They also would have been able to go after a fraction of his $5 million signing bouns for each week potentially missed. The Patriots asked for and received more than $500,000 of fine money from holdout wide receiver Deion Branch for the days he held out. They also are trying to have Branch repay this year's portion of his original signing bonus because he did not fulfill his contract. That won't happen with Owens. He practiced for a spell Wednesday. If he doesn't play Sunday against the Titans, it will be because his broken finger isn't ready.
Q: Was it weird that Bill Parcells said he hadn't talked to Owens even though friends of Owens were able to reach him by phone?
A: That wasn't surprising. Parcells apparently wanted to go into his Wednesday news conference with as little information as possible so he couldn't give answers to the laundry list of questions. Good strategy. It shows Parcells has a cool head in this situation. He knew Owens was going to have his own news conference at the team facility 45 minutes later. He had time to visit with Owens and ask his questions. Smart head coaches are all-knowing. They also know when to play dumb. It's important to the team that Parcells come across believable when discussing a player as controversial as Owens. Parcells continues to handle Owens at a distance. He continues to maintain the flexibility of embracing Owens if he's successful or getting rid of him if the problems become worse.
Q: Will Owens play against the Titans on Sunday?
A: Even though it might not be the most advisable thing to do, Owens is putting himself in a position to be on the field. He wants to play against the Eagles a week from Sunday. Parcells wants Owens to be as tough as Terry Glenn and other Cowboys who play through injuries. Glenn didn't miss a day of practice even though he suffered a very bad cut on his thumb. Parcells will never forget how long Owens lingered with a hamstring injury. Parcells is going to leave it up to Owens to see if he can tough it out over the next few days of practice. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if Parcells decides to not play him if Owens doesn't catch the ball well. There is a lot of swelling in Owens' right hand. Sitting out a week under the circumstances might not be a bad idea.
Q: How do the Cowboy players feel about Owens?
A: Owens has had enough incidents with the team now that many of the players are probably numb to these types of stories. Owens can't seem to avoid being involved in a major controversy. It would be interesting to poll the players and determine where he fits into the power structure of the team. Owens still probably hasn't figured out that the offense can operate well without him. Bledsoe has such a good working relationship with Glenn and tight end Jason Witten that anything Owens can do is a bonus for the team. It's pretty apparent Owens can't be counted on for 16 games. He's had only one 16-game season during his NFL career. Players know Owens is talented enough to win a couple of games because of his big-play ability, but counting on him week to week is another story.
Q: Does Owens face any league disciplinary action?
A: It doesn't appear that he does. The police aren't going to arrest Owens. His record is clean so there isn't anything they can do. Unless the hospital leaks something from his blood reports, the league doesn't have cause to investigate anything in this incident.
Q: What is Jerry Jones' position on this situation?
A: It was curious not to see Jones in front of the cameras on this one. By keeping his distance, Jones gave himself the latitude to come down on Owens if something surfaces that he doesn't like. But he also showed support for Owens by letting him back on the practice field Wednesday and not making a big deal out of it.
Q: How bad is the finger injury?
A: To me, it looks like an injury that should keep him out a week. The swelling on the back of the hand above the stitches is pretty pronounced. Putting on a glove has to be painful. That means Owens will have to take more painkilling medication just to get through practices and games. The only good news is that the finger is protected and can't be damaged any more. Still, you wonder how well Owens will be able to catch after such a short recovery time from the surgery.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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