Owens just wants to exercise his 'right'

Updated: March 9, 2004, 10:03 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Terrell Owens skipped a physical with the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, then reasserted his intention not to play for the team.

While the Ravens waited for an arbitrator to rule on the star receiver's bid to void his trade from the San Francisco 49ers, Owens issued a statement saying he won't suit up for Baltimore.

"So that there is no misunderstanding, regardless of what happens with the grievance, under the present circumstances I do not see myself playing for the Ravens," Owens said. "I can assure everyone that I will continue to keep fighting for my right to play for the team of my choice even after the grievance. At the end of this process, I simply want to be able to exercise my right to play for a team of my choosing under a deal that is fair to me and my family."

The Ravens will wait for the arbitrator's ruling before making their next move.

"This is a matter between the league and the union right now," Ravens spokesman Chad Steele said. "We can't do anything until we hear back on the ruling."

A league source told The Baltimore Sun for Monday's editions that the union has little chance of succeeding in its efforts, since it will concede that Owens' agent made a mistake by missing the paperwork deadline to make Owens a free agent.

The Ravens expect the matter to be cleared up by Friday and are certain Owens will play for them this season. They said they are willing to rework the deal to bring his salary in line with top receivers in the league.

But Owens wants a contract with the team of his choosing, and believes the Ravens were out of line in making the trade.

Owens was denied free-agent status last month after he missed a deadline to void the final three seasons of his contract. His agent, David Joseph, filed a grievance with the NFL Management Council through the NFL Players Association.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players association, has asked the league to overturn the trade and have Owens' contract voided so he can be declared a free agent. That could mean millions to Owens, who is due to make $17.7 million in base salary over the next three seasons, including $5.3 million next year.

Upshaw sent the case to Stephen Burbank, an arbitrator in charge of settling disputes regarding the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Burbank was elected by the league and the players association in November 2002 to serve as the special master. He is the David Berger Professor for the Administration of the Justice and the University of Pennsylvania, where he has worked since 1975.

"First and foremost, I believe that I properly voided the remaining years on my contract. However, as a possible resolution to this dispute, I agreed to try and work out a new deal with a team of my choice that would be backed up by a trade with the 49ers," Owens said. "I was promised that no trade would be made until I completed such a deal. Unfortunately, all of the teams did not adhere to this agreement and we now have an even bigger mess."

The Ravens obtained the four-time Pro Bowl receiver from the 49ers last Thursday for a second-round draft pick. Owens said he would not report to Baltimore, insisting that if given the choice, he would rather play for the Philadelphia Eagles.

After Owens did not show up for Monday's physical, the Ravens, who have the option of waiving the physical, postponed the examination pending confirmation of the trade.

Despite his latest declaration, Owens previously has started to acknowledge the likelihood that he'll be wearing purple when the season begins.

"If it was a case where I would have to be there [with the Ravens], then I'll be there," Owens told WCAU-TV, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, over the weekend. "At the same time, I want to fight for my right to exercise the option in my contract."

"I'm going to fight it to the end until I can't fight it anymore," Owens added. "This is not to disrespect the Ravens organization by any means. I just want a fair shot at my free agency.

"If it comes down to the point where I can't win, I'll be a Raven."

The Eagles reportedly agreed to a contract with Owens that included a signing bonus worth about $10 million. But the 49ers were not interested in Philadelphia's offer for Owens: a fifth-round pick and wide receiver James Thrash.

Owens caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season, his lowest totals since 1999.

Owens isn't all about talent, though. His departure from San Francisco was perpetuated by a clash with management and teammates, and his on-field antics after touchdowns include signing a football with a marker he carried in his sock, and an impromptu cheer with pompoms he borrowed from a cheerleader.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.