The over-under on Terrell Owens breaking his pledge to stop talking to the media about his contract is five minutes before you read this, whenever you do.
"Again I find my words being misinterpreted by the media," the star receiver said in a statement over the weekend, "therefore at this time I have decided to refrain from discussing the recent series of events surrounding my contract with the Philadelphia Eagles."
The recent series of events is that Owens, one year into a "seven-year, $49 million" contract he signed with the Eagles last offseason, wants a new deal, and has said so. He also said he wasn't the one who was "tired and out of shape" in the Super Bowl, a shot at quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Actually, Owens didn't say McNabb's name, and neither did his new agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who said, as if in some vaudeville routine, "I know who he's talking about, but I'm not saying." Why not? Because "that's the guy who has to get him the football."
So, like, the ball boy? No, wait, that's not how it works. Hang on, I think we can figure this out. I'd hate to misinterpret.
Owens is absolutely a chump and a loser. Let's be clear about that. If you've ever read anything about him, you probably know the litany of crimes, from the real, like constantly attacking his quarterbacks in public, to the ridiculously trumped-up, like signing the ball with a marker after scoring a touchdown or appearing in a silly skit with Nicollette Sheridan on "Monday Night Football."
I think whining publicly about his contract is one of those real offenses, but wanting to renegotiate it is not.
And I don't care about the details of the contract, whether it's a good one for Owens or not. If he wants a new contract, he should feel free to fight for it. You do.
Owens says he signed a low-ball contract last year because he had no leverage. He was trying to get out of a trade from the 49ers to the Ravens made possible by his then-agent screwing up the filing for free agency. The league was probably going to declare Owens a free agent anyway, and the Washington Post, citing union sources, says the NFL Players Association advised him not to sign the deal. But sign it he did, with nothing but smiles.
I put scare quotes around seven years and $49 million above, because NFL contracts are largely works of fiction. Since they're not guaranteed, the team can cancel them any time. The reason they're so long is to pro-rate the money over a number of years for salary-cap purposes. The only numbers that matter are guaranteed salary and bonuses in the first few years.
The length and astronomical figures also let players and agents brag about their great contracts without costing the team anything. But hardly anybody plays out an entire contract. At some point, with the huge, backloaded bonuses coming due, the team is going to want to renegotiate. And if the player refuses, he'll be cut. This happens all the time. Remember when the Patriots cut Lawyer Milloy on the eve of the season two years ago? That's what was happening.
Now, while Owens says he's vastly underpaid, Sports Illustrated's Peter King writes that the first three years of his contract will bring the receiver $17.18 million, about $4 million less than the two great receivers he's most often compared to, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison.
You can decide for yourself whether that makes Owens underpaid, overpaid or paid just right. I actually don't care how much money he makes, since I'm not the one who has to pay him, but do keep in mind if these things matter to you that at least four years and not quite $32 million of that seven and $49 million you keep hearing about are purely theoretical.
With a non-guaranteed contract, Owens has the right to renegotiate every day if he wants to, because that's what the Eagles do. A good way to think about a non-guaranteed contract is that it's a one-day deal with a team option for tomorrow.
Every day the Eagles don't cut Owens, they've essentially renegotiated his contract. They don't cut him, or any other player they don't cut, because he's too good a player or because he's still owed too much guaranteed money for it to make sense to cut him. Or both. But if the Eagles wanted to cut him, they would.
That's why I find it so irritating to hear all the whining about Owens not "honoring" his contract. "He had his negotiating chance," writes FoxSports.com columnist John Czarnecki in a typical rant. "A deal should be a deal. That's the way it is in America. You agree to a deal and shake hands. Most people expect you to live up to your agreement."
That's true except for it being totally false. Let's say you're a fairly typical Eagles ticket-buyer. Let's say you make $50,000 or so, a solid income that's not making you rich but is enough to buy a house and a car and the odd football ticket if you're thrifty and so inclined.
Let's say you hired on a year ago, agreeing happily to those 50 G's. You don't feel you have the right to ask for a raise? I'm assuming you're on the same kind of contract Owens is, which means you can be fired at any time. (You actually have more workplace protection, most likely, but never mind that.)
Of course you do. If you felt like you had the juice to ask for a raise every day, you would. And your boss would be free to say yes, no or get lost, just as the Eagles can say any of those things to Owens.
Now, let's say you're still that $50,000-a-year Eagles fan and Terrell Owens knocks on your door one day, sits on your couch, accepts your compliments when you tell him what a fine player he is, then complains long and loudly that it's just not fair what the Eagles are paying him. It's an insult, he tells you, for him to be getting paid less than $6 million a year. He has his family's security to think about.
Even if Owens is right, even if the going rate for a receiver of his caliber is $7 million a year, it's pretty rude for him to sit on your couch and talk to you that way, knowing what you make and how you have to save all year to afford those Eagles tickets. That's what Owens or any other player does when he negotiates in the press.
And if a co-worker bucked for a raise by announcing in public, say at a company-wide meeting, that you sucked at your job, you'd probably have something to say to that person after the meeting, maybe with your fists. That's what Owens is doing when he calls out Donovan McNabb.
Those two things are why Owens is a chump and a loser. They're why the Eagles, and anybody else, are probably better off without him than with him, even though he's such a great player, and even though they made the Super Bowl only after trading for him. Remember, after all, that the one accomplishment that was new last year, winning the NFC Championship Game, was achieved with Owens on the sideline.
But he's not a chump for wanting more money in the first place. We all want more money. And if we think we can get it, most of us aren't shy about asking for it.
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