T.O. a big boost for Ravens
Think Terrell Owens will cause some problems in Baltimore? Not with Ray Lewis around.
Last week in this space, we suggested that one remedy for the possible loss of tailback Jamal Lewis to federal drug charges would be the upgrade of the Baltimore Ravens' passing game, specifically in the addition of wide receiver Terrell Owens.
Uh, you're welcome, Ozzie Newsome.
Just kidding, of course, since Newsome is a whole lot smarter than are we. But the acquisition of Owens by The Wizard of Oz in a Thursday afternoon trade clearly is a sign the Ravens intend to better balance their offense in 2003, whether Lewis is around or not. The team's wide receiver corps ranked among the worst in the NFL, filled with retreads and young players who had not fulfilled their potential, and Owens is a pretty dramatic way to elicit a quick fix.
Any team that dealt for Owens -- and the only other franchise believed to have been in the hunt was Philadelphia -- had to be convinced of the structure in its locker room and the collective strength of its character. From talking with some Eagles officials and coaches, it's clear they believed that quarterback Donovan McNabb and others would help control the well-documented Owens petulance. And, obviously, the Ravens feel the same way.
Said one team official: "Everybody knows who runs the show here. This is still Ray Lewis' team and Terrell can't be dumb enough to think otherwise. He's going to now be surrounded by strong-willed people. He doesn't have to be the leader here. All he has to do is follow the lead and make plays."
There are certain to be times when Owens, who has averaged more than 80 receptions over the past five seasons, won't be happy not getting the football. Even with Owens on board, the Baltimore offense isn't suddenly going to become a latter-day version of the run-and-shoot and, let's face it, Boller remains in his apprenticeship. But the Ravens, who had more than enough salary cap room to take on Owens' current contract as is, will quickly demonstrate their ardor by opening negotiations on a long-term deal. They will do everything in their power, but only within reason, to make Owens feel at home.
Most important, they will subtly hint as to who runs the locker room, and let Owens know in their own way precisely what is expected of him.
Getting a playmaker of Owens' stature for a second-round draft choice is a steal. But the 49ers were hell-bent on ending the tempestuous relationship and, when the Eagles would not deal their first-round pick, the huckstering of Owens became essentially a giveaway. But even at a bargain price, the deal only works if Owens works to exorcise his demons, to allow the spotlight to find him rather than forever seeking it out.
We've got a hunch that, if the heretofore incorrigible Owens doesn't commit himself to snuffing out those demons, the Ravens won't have to hire an exorcist. Ray Lewis, either literally or figuratively, will knock them out of his new teammate. There are precious few personages in the NFL who draw the kind of respect that the Ravens passionate middle 'backer merits from everyone around him.
Owens would be wise to assimilate that lesson the easy way.
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Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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