Eagles need to prioritize issue of self-respect

Updated: November 7, 2005, 2:35 PM ET
By Michael Smith | ESPN.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- Out of cheeks to turn, Donovan McNabb has now been forced to turn his back on Terrell Owens and walk away.

We win together and we lose together. ... It's going to get better. I can play with what we've got.
Donovan McNabb

Now for the record, McNabb would welcome Owens back into the Philadelphia Eagles family. Terrell Owens the football player, that is. On the other hand the other Terrell Owens, who is fit to be the leader of the insane clown posse, that guy can stay right where he is, wherever he is. And since those individuals have given no indication that they can exist independently, the Eagles therefore have no realistic choice other than to separate themselves from Owens. And not for another game or two or three. Permanently.

"It is tough losing a guy of his caliber, his ability, but I think we might be better off," McNabb said Sunday night, even after the Eagles managed a single touchdown in a 17-10 loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field. "I think what we did tonight was we showed that we play well together. I think we also showed that when given the opportunity guys can make plays for us. The guys in the locker room have to understand that we win together and we lose together."

McNabb had the players come together for a meeting on Saturday. The proverbial stuff having long ago hit the fan, to the point where the air in the Eagles locker room stinks with the stench of the situation, McNabb offered anyone who has a problem with anyone else to speak up or pull that person aside. Owens said nothing.

Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb
AP/Evan VucciAs an organization, the Eagles owe it to a lot of people -- chief among them Andy Reid, left, and Donovan McNabb -- to cut Terrell Owens off for good.

It's time for the organization to make a statement and more important, stick to it. I'm all for forgiveness, but forgiveness has its limits. It is a combination of Owens's twisted method of interpretation and his inability to forgive that is at the root of the problem; Owens still resents McNabb and the Eagles for suggesting that they had to continue on last season after Owens broke his leg rather than say something more like, "We're going to win for T.O." The Eagles need to borrow a page from that book and suspend Owens for an additional three games and deactivate him for the remainder of the season.

Before the game, Eagles president Joe Banner told The Associated Press, "Andy [Reid] will basically figure out where we go from here. He indicated to T.O. that he'd talk to him later this week and give him a more definitive status report." What's there to talk about? What's going to change? That would be a rhetorical question. Owens won't change. Supposedly if he apologizes to the organization, the team, and McNabb personally for disparaging remarks he made last week, he can come back. But an apology from Owens is about as sincere as a politician's promise not to raise taxes. Knowing Owens, he'd probably cross his fingers while saying, "I'm sorry."

If the Eagles allow him back they're the ones who will be sorry. Reid avoided "getting into that" after the game. You can bet that if Owens returns, sooner or later he's going to get into with somebody again. Owens didn't learn his lesson when the Eagles sent him home for a week during training camp and he won't learn it this time. He won't change, so what good is an apology without true remorse?

McNabb was asked if he needed an apology from Owens. His response: Show me, don't tell me. "Personally I don't need to hear anything," McNabb said. "What I need to see is us playing well together."

Owens' talent is unmistakable. In 21 games with the Eagles he has 124 catches for 1,963 yards and 20 touchdowns. Philadelphia's is a better offense with him lined up outside. The problem is he's always on the outside, on and off the field. It's as if he doesn't want to be inside the circle of trust. After Sunday night's loss several Eagles spoke of the need to continue fighting. It's a lot easier to do so without locker room fisticuffs (Owens reportedly engaged in one with ex-Eagle Hugh Douglass last week). It doesn't matter what a guy brings to the table if you have to worry about whether he's poisoned the food.

"We played as a team," McNabb said. Even now, he still tries to be diplomatic. "Nothing against him and his attitude, but when you get out there on the field it's about playing together. In think we all played with a lot of attitude and a lot of adrenaline, guys played well together. Unfortunately we didn't win this game but I think this was a stepping stone for us to move forward."

Asked if he would accept Owens back, McNabb redirected the focus to the team -- precisely where it hasn't been since, pretty much, the day Owens became and Eagle. "That's not my call," McNabb said. "If he's out there, we need to play well together. We win together, we lose together. If he's not out there it's the same thing."

Winning isn't everything and it certainly isn't the only thing. There is also a little thing called self-respect. The Eagles as an organization need to show some for themselves, and show that they are behind the universally respected quarterback whom Owens insulted, by cutting Owens off, then make the divorce official by cutting him in the offseason. The ultimate punishment for Owens will be to have to sit and watch the Eagles win without him. And they will.

"It's going to get better," McNabb said in the empty Eagles locker room. "I can play with what we've got."

Owner Jeffrey Lurie, Banner, and Reid have a simple choice to make: one guy or 52. And the answer is obvious. Better for the Eagles' season to die with them on their feet than for it to live with them on their knees, begging T.O. to deliver them another NFC East title. In his mind, that's what they'd be doing by taking him back, having struggled without him. I say the Eagles should struggle with dignity and cut off the hand that hath offended them.

The road ahead (Dallas, the Giants twice, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington again) will be hard enough for the Eagles without the burden of T.O.'s incessant bitching pulling them down. Owens is not Anakin Skywalker and his behavior since the Super Bowl suggests that there is no good in him whatsoever. Reid needs to stop searching for it, stop waiting for it, and let T.O. start searching for another place to play. I mean, what's the breaking point? Where's the "here" that most organizations by now would have had it up to?

It should have been nipped in the bud in the offseason but Eagles gave Owens another second chance. Still, it's not too late to escape this abusive, unhealthy relationship. Owens isn't just a bad apple. He's a nut. One that needs to be cracked once and for all.

"People are tired," one player said. "People want peace and calm in the locker room so they can focus, so they can think without distractions. When it's over and over and over and over and over, it wears on you."

Owens has long since worn out his welcome. Why the door even remains open is beyond me.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Michael Smith

NFL Senior Writer
Michael Smith joined ESPN in July 2004 as a National Football League senior writer for ESPN.com, covering league news and major events such as the NFL Draft, NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl, and continues to write breaking news stories. He is also a correspondent for E:60, ESPN's first multi-themed prime-time newsmagazine program, which debuted October 2007.

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