Since the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about details, and explaining why Owens’s star celebration-created reputation led to the media directly causing the conflicts that did exist (and inventing other conflicts or issues where they either didn’t exist or were not newsworthy) is too much nuance for them, let’s look at the stupidity put forth by the likes of Clark Judge in its simplest form…and show why it’s completely wrong.
It goes something like this:
“At the height of Owens’s career, three teams couldn’t wait to get rid of him. Three teams decided they were better off without him than with him. That shows he had a negative impact on the team itself with his locker room blah blah blah.”
Let’s start with San Francisco. Simply put, the 49ers weren’t looking forward to getting rid of him. That’s revisionist history.
In 1999, they signed him to a 7 year contract with a then-record $7.5 million signing bonus. Of course, this was before any of the controversy hit, so let’s move on.
After the star celebrations, the 49ers could have gotten rid of him at any point during the 4 seasons he played with the team before the void clause in his contract (2000-2003). But they didn’t. They didn’t cut him, they didn’t trade him. The only time he was suspended during those 4 seasons was following the 2000 Dallas game touchdown celebrations on the star. The 49ers won that game 41-24, by the way, and were not suspending him for any kind of conduct detrimental to the team. They were suspending him as a disciplinary action for “unacceptable poor sportsmanship.” Mariucci himself has explained that he never thought the team would be better off without him.
And of course he didn’t. The very thought is utterly absurd. He was the best player on the team and one of the best players in the league at any position.
In fact, the 49ers decided Owens was so important to the team that Mariucci personally flew out to Atlanta to meet with Owens and his agent at the time, David Joseph, to try to fix their relationship, which had turned sour after Mariucci had suspended Owens for the touchdown celebrations (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/04/sports/pro-football-the-49ers-uneasy-truce.html?pagewanted=all).
So Owens played all the seasons in his contract prior to the void clause, which allowed Owens/his agent the option of voiding the remaining years on his contract and hitting free agency. Prior to the last season before this clause, Owens’s agent met with General Manager Terry Donahue to discuss a contract extension. Why was Donahue wasting his time meeting with the agent of this player he just couldn’t wait to get rid of?
Simply put, when Donahue sat down with Joseph, he determined that Owens was out of his price range. The 49ers didn’t think they would have the salary cap space needed to sign both Owens and Julian Peterson, who was set to be a free agent the following off-season as well and was represented by the Postons, who were infamous for making outrageous salary demands (there were reports at the time that Peterson would request a $30 million signing bonus).
So the decision was made to play out the season and see what the off-season entailed. At that point, the 49ers firmly had it in their minds he was probably going to leave via free agency once the year was over.
The 49ers didn’t trade Owens before the season when they decided they weren’t giving him an extension. They didn’t trade or release him during the season. Apparently, they thought they were better with him than without him during his last year in San Francisco. Now why on earth would they think that? It’s not like great receivers help teams win games or anything.
After the season, Owens chose to void the remaining years of his contract and enter free agency. It was only when Joseph missed the new deadline that Owens remained under contract from the 49ers, and he and Joseph requested a trade.
That same off-season, the 49ers released Jeff Garcia, Garrison Hearst, Derrick Deese, and Ron Stone, and allowed Tai Streets and Jed Weaver to leave via free agency uncontested. In other words, they were rebuilding. And in doing so, the 30-year-old receiver who requested a trade was granted one.
So no, the 49ers did not decide the team would be “better off without him.” They went 2-14 the following season. They simply decided he didn’t fit into their long-term rebuilding plan, especially since he didn’t want to be there anymore. The 49ers traded Owens to the Ravens for a 2nd round pick (which was later undone via the grievance hearing and settlement that sent him to the Eagles instead). The ones they dumped were Garcia, Hearst, Stone, and Deese.
So after playing 8 years on the 49ers, which was a pretty long time for a player the team “couldn’t wait to get rid of,” he was on the Eagles. After going 13-1 with them in the regular season, returning from a broken leg to play in the Super Bowl, and asking to redo his contract and having the Eagles’ front office flat out refuse, he played the first 7 games in the 2005 season as the Eagles started 4-3. Donovan McNabb had suffered a sports hernia injury in week 1, yet they were still in contention, partly thanks to Owens being on pace for over 1700 yards and another double digit touchdown season.
Did the Eagles decide to get rid of Owens because they thought the team would be better off without him? Of course not. They suspended and deactivated him for insubordination. It was only after he’d failed to fully comply with the apology stipulations for when he publicly criticized the Eagles organization/PR department for not recognizing his 100th career TD reception, and offended McNabb by agreeing with Michael Irvin’s assessment about Brett Favre having the Eagles in a better situation (taken out of context), that the Eagles decided he was off the team. They weren’t getting rid of him for hurting the team, they were getting rid of him for offending people – namely, the front office and McNabb – and not doing as he was told when they asked him to apologize.
In other words, the Eagles decided they’d rather lose without Owens than win with him. That’s not about hurting the team, it’s about hurting feelings and challenging authority.
If you publicly say bad things about your boss, you’re in danger of being fired. It doesn’t mean you were hurting the company; it means the person/people running the company don’t like you personally and don’t want to work with you anymore.
The fact that the Eagles were better with Owens than without him is why there was support from the players for bringing Owens back to the team. But owners and management tend not to like it when players make the organization look bad to the public.
Just ask Charlie Sheen. As it turns out, even when you are the star of the network’s highest rated show, when you publicly insult your boss, they get angry and don’t want to employ you anymore.
Saying the Eagles got rid of Owens because he was hurting the team is like saying Saul Goodman’s law firm is going to fire him because he hurt the firm. No, they’re going to fire him for insubordination. Him going behind his boss’s back to submit his commercial idea was enormously successful and was going to help them make millions, but his boss is not willing to tolerate him defying his orders.
The fact that the Eagles, who had made 3 consecutive NFC Championship games with the same nucleus of players and coaches, minus Owens, were willing to let Owens stay on the team if he merely apologized to McNabb and stood up in front of the team to clarify that his interview answers were taken out of context, shows how badly the Eagles wanted him on the team. They were facing a media barrage that had never been seen before in the history of sports, yet they were willing to go to all this trouble just to keep him.
This media barrage started when Owens held out for a new contract and intensified to an unfathomable level after he came to camp in a bad mood because he was still upset over the contract situation and was suspended for a week as a result. The Eagles sent him three letters to warn him about his “insubordination,” and that there would be repercussions if it continued. None of this said anything about his conduct in the locker room, but rather him having skipped autograph sessions and disrespected certain coaches.
And then he returned and the Eagles acknowledged his conduct had improved.
And then he did the infamous Bensinger interview and while Andy Reid was understanding of what happened, he asked Owens to do certain things, and when Owens didn’t do them, he suspended and deactivated him for failing to meet the stipulations after having been warned repeatedly earlier that year for insubordination. You know, insubordination. Not “dividing the locker room.” Not, “because the team will be better off on the field without him.” If Reid believed that, he never would have gone to all this trouble to try to keep him on the team.
From arbitrator Richard Bloch’s document for his ruling on the grievance hearing:
But, Reid proposed a way out. First, the Coach said Owens would need to apologize to the organization publicly. Second, he told Owens to “get with the quarterback and work this thing out. Work it out.” Later, testifies the Coach, he learned of more players being upset. He reviewed the transcript, found supportive comments that Owens had made and spoke to him again. He told Owens:
• Hey, man, there were some good things in there. But these things right here are wrong. And this team right now, that locker room isn’t right. It’s just not right. It’s just not right. There’s too much questioning going on. And a lot of it right now is they are questioning you. And let’s just get it straight, or I have to suspend you.
It was at that point, testifies the Coach that he added a third requirement:
• I said you need to stand in front of that team and let them know what you meant, and get this thing settled. I even gave him examples because that’s not an easy thing for him to do. But I thought it was important. I just thought at that time the team needed to hear — again, this is a veteran Player they look up to as a football Player and just say, hey, listen — one of the examples I gave him — this thing didn’t come out right. It didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. I even told him it does not need to be a tear-jerker team. I don’t need that. I just need it set straight. It didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, and it won’t happen again. I’m staying away from the TV’s and all the radio and so on. I’m staying away from it all. It’s not going to happen again.
“And a lot of it right now is they are questioning you.”
So the media taking Owens’s response out of context and feeding people their false “interpretation” of his comments had upset some players. The players who were upset were upset with Owens. So once again: hurt feelings, not hurting the team’s performance. And hurting people’s feelings (in this case, the media was responsible for half of it, but that’s beside the point) is not supposed to come into play when they are discussing a player’s Hall of Fame credentials. They are only supposed to evaluate a player’s contribution to the team’s on field performance, and the only ridiculous argument hinging on intangibles they can even make is that Owens/the media misconstruing his comments being something that pissed off some players somehow negatively impacted their performance on the field.
Well, in that case, we may as well dig deep and find out if any other Hall of Fame candidate ever said something that pissed a teammate off, be it publicly or privately, and then just pretend that it negatively affected the team’s on field performance. Because, in the end, whether it was through the media or not, the end result is players thinking negatively about that teammate.
Hall of Fame candidates, like, I dunno…Warren Sapp? He’s in the Hall of Fame.
Something tells me Clark Judge didn’t stand up and protest Sapp’s inclusion into the Hall of Fame.
Finally, we move on to Dallas, where Owens was neither the prized player who was looking to leave a rebuilding team, nor had he offended the owner or front office by criticizing the organization. What was it this time?
According to Owens, he was told it was his on field performance from 2008. That’s precisely what it said on his evaluation form that they sent him after he was released. They didn’t check any of the “conduct” boxes, they checked, “performance.”
As it turns out, just a year later, Chan Gailey publicly stated that in reviewing the film, he thought Owens had “hit a wall,” or was close to hitting said wall, and that was the reason the Bills didn’t re-sign him.
And, as it turns out, during the 2008 season, while Owens/the offense were not producing, the Cowboys had traded for Roy Williams and sacrificed 1st and 3rd round picks in the draft and paid him #1 receiver money. Owens finished with a down year statistically (1052 yards, 10 touchdowns), and he was 35.
Why did the Cowboys release Terrell Owens? Well, why did they release DeMarcus Ware? The Cowboys thought these guys were getting close to the end. The only difference is, cutting Owens didn’t save any cap space.
But it did create a situation where the Cowboys were more likely to get their money’s worth out of Williams (even though they didn’t). And it reduced the media harassment that was annoying certain members of the coaching staff. The Cowboys decided, “better a year too soon than a year too late,” and cut Owens at an age in which nearly every receiver in history was close to or at the end of his career. Only with Terrell Owens is 35 considered “the height of his career.” But then it suits the agenda, of course.
Lost in this: The Cowboys had the option to not bring Owens back after the 2006 season. What did they do? They picked up his option. And then after the 2007 season, they signed him to a contract extension.
Couldn’t wait to get rid of him, huh?
So those are the facts. Each of Owens’s first three teams went out of their way to try to keep him. That says exactly the opposite of what the likes of Clark Judge try to claim in justifying his exclusion from the Hall of Fame.
And in total, 6 NFL teams signed Owens, including the Seahawks when he was 38 years old, only to cut him when he failed to make the team in preseason. That means 6 football teams thought he could make them better. And yet in spite of these facts, the likes of Judge would rather cling to their ludicrous narrative; a narrative their ilk developed simply because he was bold enough to listen to the team chaplain and trot to the star after scoring touchdowns in his 5th year in the NFL. “We made stuff up about you, we directly caused problems for you and the teams you were on, and now we’re holding the stuff we made up and that we caused against you when we vote for the Hall of Fame.”