WASHINGTON -- The NFL players' union asked an arbitrator Tuesday to make Terrell Owens a free agent, claiming the San Francisco 49ers didn't have the rights to trade the wide receiver to the Baltimore Ravens.
The case will go to Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, who was selected jointly by the league and the NFL Players' Association early last year to arbitrate such contract disputes.
Owens was prevented from becoming a free agent when the NFL Management Council ruled last week that his agent, David Joseph, failed to void the last two years of his contract by a Feb. 21 deadline.
The union, which oversees the certification and discipline of agents, is likely to consider action against Joseph, as well, according to a Washington Post report.
Sources told the newspaper that the union does not consider Joseph to be off the hook. Union officials have said that Joseph was notified of a change in the deadline -- from early March to Feb. 21 -- for Owens to void the remainder of his contract.
Several executives around the league and several veteran agents, speaking on the condition that they not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case, told the Post they expect the union to discipline Joseph, perhaps by suspending him. Union officials declined to comment publicly, according to the paper, and Joseph has not responded to numerous phone messages.
On Thursday, the 49ers traded Owens, one of the top three wide receivers in the league, to Baltimore for a second-round draft choice, turning down a proposal from Philadelphia, the team he said he wanted to play for.
Owens, who would have been the top free agent available this year, reiterated Monday he didn't want to go to 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," he said in a fax sent to The Associated Press.
When Owens failed to file the request to void the contract, it was believed he had three seasons left.
However, Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director, said there are two years left.
"That was a mistake by the 49ers," Upshaw said. "There are just two years remaining, and we think we have a good case for voiding them."
Should Burbank rule in Owens' favor, the trade to Baltimore would be overturned and he would become a free agent. He could command a signing bonus of $10 million to $15 million. If the league ruling is upheld, Owens would be due $5.3 million in salary next season, although the Ravens said they would be willing to renegotiate the contract.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.