No going across the middle
But it's time for McNabb and the Eagles to be as smart as their words usually portray them to be. It's time for them to step up and acknowledge the basic truth that, like it or not, they need Owens every bit as much as he needs them. They need the guy no matter how much he drives them crazy.
The Eagles, that is, are a good football team without Owens. They can be a great team with him. And that, in the NFL, is really all there is to the formula.
We're sweeping right through the dream-free zone here. When McNabb told reporters in Philadelphia that the Eagles can reach the Super Bowl "if he [Owens] plays or not," he was no doubt attempting to buoy the spirits of the franchise while at the same time taking a swipe a professional swipe, of course; a subtle, McNabb-style swipe at the receiver whose talent is almost always outstripped by his ego, his mouth-first approach to business, and his general pain-in-the-flank existence.
It was also the grandest bunch of hooey. There's a lot to like about Andy Reid's team, but it went to the Super Bowl last season in significant measure because of Owens, who caught 1,200 yards' worth of passes and 14 touchdowns.
Without Owens, the Eagles are a solid team, a playoff team. With him, they are a conference champ and a sincere Super Bowl repeat threat and it's scary to think what they might have done had Owens not essentially limped into that championship game before catching nine passes for 122 yards. End of conversation.
The whole Owens contract situation is already another T.O. classic a player trying to tell the NFL that he didn't mean it when he signed a $49 million deal barely one year ago. Owens blamed the "bad" signing on his being in the middle of the Baltimore imbroglio, which is a rich laugh: He's the player who made it clear he would never play for the Ravens, thus initiating the scrum, even though the team had every right in the world to trade for him with the San Francisco 49ers after the high-maintenance Owens overstayed his welcome there.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie promptly announced that he won't renegotiate Owens' contract, and that's fine. Just don't pretend to be offended, or amazed, by the player's posturing. The NFL is a brutally unsentimental place, and by the way, Lurie can cut Owens and his remaining contract anytime he feels like it. Let's not waste a moment in the delusion that Owens' attempt to get a better deal is some sort of cosmic first for the league.
Nope, Owens is just another unhappy rich guy, underappreciated in his thinking, now represented by noted bulldog Drew Rosenhaus and angling for extra layers of the good life. Of course, he has a go-nowhere situation he has already been publicly rebuffed by the guy writing the checks and eventually, he'll have to decide to report to camp with the Eagles or quit the sport. The contract holds all the cards.
But hold nothing against T.O. for this particular bout of mini-greed. He's an athlete trying to get his, and he's hardly the first high-profile player to attempt either to get more money or get to the team he wants or get the coach fired or whatever. Owens is a fair representative of the current state of things, for better and (a whole bunch of the time) for worse.
That's off the field. On it, he is the best receiver the Eagles have, arguably the best receiver in his conference. He's the player around whom opposing defensive coordinators have to draw and re-draw entire schemes. McNabb is the engine of the Philly offense, absolutely. But this is no time to be marking talent lines in the sand. McNabb is less without Owens. And Owens is less without McNabb.
Because the Eagles, under Reid, have appeared to be such an inherently reasonable bunch, the most likely result here is for everyone to go back to work and wait for Owens to reach the same conclusion they have reached. McNabb ought to be lauded for not going after Owens more openly, especially after T.O. classically flapped his gums and tried to pin part of the Super Bowl loss to New England on the notion that McNabb at one point was too ill in the fourth quarter to even call a play.
In fact, it was McNabb who said of Owens this week, "The sky is the limit of how far we can really go with having a guy like T.O., not only for me, but for this team."
He's right, and that isn't going to change. As the great Jay Mohr once said in a classic movie line, "This isn't show friends, it's show business." Owens, given time, has a decent chance of coming back to the reality that he is a great fit with the Philadelphia Eagles. No time like the present for the Eagles to acknowledge that very same thing.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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