The Big Terrell Owens Question

Apparently, Terrell Owens couldn’t possibly be more available.

That’s the subtext behind the rumors being floated around that the number of teams still talking to Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is down to two: the Bengals, and the Rams. This leads to a predictable pundit war for credibility, with ESPN’s Chris Mortensen saying that the Rams could offer Owens a contract as early as Monday, rebutted by NFL.com’s Jason LaCanfora, who quotes a Rams source saying this speculation is “overzealous.”

A quick roundup of recent tweets from the @RamsHerd/rams-fans group finds a surprising number in favor of an Owens deal:

TGreen1380I as a Rams fan and someone who gets to do a weekly radio show would be ecstatic to get @terrellowens but shocked most #StlRams fans agree
Daniel_Doelling How could T.O. hurt Bradford.? No way he’d bash the kid. And hes on his last 1 or 2 yrs, he’ll be on good behavior.
STLRamsFan93 @ottoman89 T.O brings excitement, and alot of people have told me that they aren’t even #Rams fans, but they would go just to see T.O.

Of course, thoughts of making this deal bring up tons of questions. Here are the big three:


1. Can he still play?

He had his worst year as a pro last season in Buffalo. And our brother site here on the FanBall network, BillsHerd.com, wasn’t particularly impressed:

Terrell Owens came to Buffalo to rebuild his image. He has done that, but I don’t think in the way he intended. Owens has shown he still has big play ability, but has also shown that he has lost a step and is no longer a sure bet elite receiver. It isn’t his production or lack of yards that make me believe this. It is his routes that he is running and his very routine dropped passes. As bad as the QB play has been this year, I would wonder what kind of season Buffalo could have had if Owens could have maintained possession of the ball.

– BillsHerd: Year End Review: Wide Receivers

However, Football Outsiders’ Doug Farrar dropped a different perspective in a column for Yahoo Sports’ Shutdown Corner:

[Owens' 2009 stats] would seem to indicate that Owens is well past his prime, until you consider what the Bermuda Triangle of quarterbacks in Buffalo did to the receivers who had been on the roster in 2008… it’s tougher to do your job when so many of the balls thrown to you are either wormburners five yards in front of you, or floaters into triple coverage.

What T.O. did not possess was the consistent downfield speed that he was able to show off in his younger years. But it’s tough to look at his 2009 performance with an unbiased eye and not wonder why this guy isn’t on a roster at this point.

– Yahoo! Sports: Upon Further Review: Does TO Still Have It?

Moreover, whether or not he is still an ace, merely by name alone he forces defensive coordinators to gameplan against him. You have to devote a top cover man to Owens, and roll a safety deep. That takes one potential eighth man out of the box that would be facing Jackson, and takes coverage pressure away from Avery, Robinson, Gilyard, etc. Any defensive coordinator that gives up a big run to SJ might get chewed out a bit, but he just got beat by a player in his prime, an unstoppable force at times. But any defensive coordinator that allows the Terrell Owens to beat his team deep? He’s going to get reamed.

2. Would he play for a 1-15 team?

Well, he chose the Buffalo Bills last season, or rather they were the only team to choose him. We’re almost to the opening of training camp and more teams have publicly denounced their invovlement with Owens or his agent than those said to be still in the running. So I’d say that if TO legitimately wants to play, and his staying in football shape appears to make that clear, I don’t see a compelling reason why he would say no to the Rams.

That is, unless a playoff-bubble team like the Bengals or Chargers offer up.

3. (And this is the big one): Can Coach Spagnuolo handle Owens?

No team of 53 personalities is going to be easy to manage. Especially in a season of constant strife. But Spags had this group of men all pulling together, even as bodies were shipped in and out, whether via the injury cart or the transaction wires. Everyone seemed to understand their part in the effort, and no one threw the coach under the bus. Not even the “problem” players, like Richie Incognito, whom he cut.

But Owens, by reputation and by deed, is a whole different breed. Right?

I’m not so sure. Let’s look at this question from the other perspective. When has Owens ever been “coached up” by a man like Spagnuolo?

In college at UT Chattanooga, Owens had three different head coaches in four years, each of whom saw the receiver as the golden goose.

Drafted by San Francisco, Owens was barely tolerated by his idol, Jerry Rice, and was a constant source of embarrassment to the laid-back Steve Mariucci. The public fallout over Owens’ infamous celebration on the Dallas Star drove a huge wedge between player and team that was papered over, but kept simmering back to a boil that drove the young star out of town.

Sacrificing money to escape to Philadelphia, Owens was given the tough-love treatment by Andy Reid. Owens played nice at first, but found the Eagles’ “team-first” philosophy to be a zero-sum game that allowed him no room for his desire for individual recognition — nor much room for renegotiation of his below-market contract. Relations with coach and team grew ugly, and Owens responded by publicly questioning the toughness of quarterback Donovan McNabb during an ESPN interview. Thus ended his time in an Eagles uniform.

Exiled to Dallas, Owens was adopted by the even-tougher-love attitude of Bill Parcells. Again, Owens allowed himself to be subservient to the bigger personality of his coach, for a time. But now his own frustration with his declining skills set in, and eventually Owens could not hide his jealousy toward other receivers like Jason Witten whose role in the offense grew at his expense.

Finally, in Buffalo, Owens was essentially put on the field and left alone by the defensive-minded Dick Jauron, who was fired midway through the season. Whether it was newfound maturity, a respect for interim coach Perry Fewell, or just a shortage of microphones in Buffalo, Owens never made waves off the field. Quoting Doug Farrar: “In 2009, Terrell Owens absolutely had the worst quarterbacks, worst offensive line, and worst overall offensive situation of his long career. For all the times he threw more talented teammates under the bus in the past, did you hear a peep out of him last season?”

Honestly, if he had a chance to play for the always moving, constantly forward-looking Spagnuolo, I’m not sure Owens would know what to make of him. At the very least, it would be a dramatic difference in atmosphere from the overbearing natures of Reid and Parcells, and the indifferent and insecure attitudes of Jauron and Mariucci.

I haven’t fully talked myself into believing that Owens and the Rams are a fit. but I have to admit, it would make an interesting experiment.

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