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Towards the end of May in a trio of mini-camps held by the San Francisco 49ers there was one star on the team that decided not to shine or show up, with that being Terrell Owens. Being a contract year Terrell Owens knows as well as anyone that the San Francisco 49ers are still submerged in salary cap headwater. Many fans are divided on this issue and most falls on both sides of the fence in regard to Terrell Owens and his status with the franchise.
San Francisco 49er officials and Terrell Owens agent have met. But it seems it is more exploratory than ever as Terry Donahue has made clear that the organization is in no hurry to sign their top star anytime soon. Terrell Owens is his own pack of tricks and has had plenty of experience in dishing those tricks out on those he does not like or respect.
Terrell Owens also has a heart that has melted much more than it ever has from the past, in which he has taken this team under his wing and led it in times of darkness. The best example as of late was the 2002 National Football Conference Wild-Card Weekend against the New York Giants. He effectively orchestrated one of the greatest football comebacks in league history, being 24 points down late in the second half of that game.
It was his spirit and willingness to fight that inspired an entire team. He was the one stomping up and down the sidelines and inside the locker room and breathing the elements of fire and brimstone. He came out and showered the New York Giants with unbelievable plays and matched wit for wit every defensive posture that was taken to limit him. If not for his playmaking that game and so many others would’ve been lost and we all know that for a fact.
Terrell Owens has carried this team on many occasions and will continue to do that if he is given the chance to. He has changed since his down and dirty days in the Steve Mariucci Era, basically because he finally saw the real ramifications it had on the team. He began to realize that it was his comments that were damaging the team and causing a distraction for them to defend. So it was Terrell Owens that corrected himself and put a media blackout on all the press in 2002.
Refusing to talk to reporters unless he approached them shocked the media world because it was so used to just having that coverage at their fingertips whenever they wanted it. Suddenly the press was being held responsible to be just that more responsible and report the facts and not myths. The cocky and selfish Terrell Owens was being transformed right before our eyes as he began to exhibit leadership skills that we only could refer to in legendary Jerry Rice. Maybe just maybe Jerry’s ghosts in the locker room had finally penetrated the recesses of Terrell Owens mind and made him re-examine himself.
We know why star veteran players suddenly no-show at team practices. It is not anything new, yet this time the 49ers and the media took particular notice that Terrell Owens did not show up for three straight voluntary mini-camp practices. Many times a player’s agent suggests that they not show up to stir the front office to become serious about contract negotiations. However you want to term it or look at it, it really does get everyone’s attention.
Following the 2003 season Terrell Owens, 29 will become an unrestricted free agent and he’ll be watched closely by every single team in the league should the 49ers fail to address his contractual needs and desires. He is without a doubt in a position to ask almost any price he wants based upon his talents and abilities as a star player that simply makes one great play after another. He is the prime star in this 49er offense, for anyone to dispute that evidence is just ludicrous and unrealistic.
Owens has for the most part been in confinement in his home in Atlanta, Georgia. Where he has his won state of the art training facilities and his very own army of personal trainers and physicians that monitor his every move so that the green keeps rolling in based upon his mental and physical performance. He is scheduled to make $4.2 million in 2003 and this will be rainwater in comparison to what he is seeking thereafter.
Terrell Owens agent David Joseph has told one magazine that his client will not negotiate a new contract once the season begins. Getting one done before the 2003 season starts is highly recommended on his part. With his scheduled base salary of over four million coming up, according to his contract he can void the final three seasons on his contract, having reached trigger clauses in his contract to do so.
What the San Francisco 49ers still have though in their back pocket is that they can designate Owens as their "franchise player" meaning slap a tag on him and prevent him from leaving via free agency as an unrestricted free agent. This would allow the 49ers to tender him a deal for 2004 worth the average of the league’s five highest paid receivers, which is currently $5.01 million this year.
The San Francisco 49ers meanwhile should try and avoid that from happening period. Basically because it creates massive disharmony between a player and his franchise. The 49ers are also aware that Owens may be using the missing attendance at the past mini-camps as a basis for his discontent already. But they are downplaying the issue and vow that they will address his contract in the future.
"We have a contract with Terrell Owens and there is no urgency on our part to rush into anything," Donahue said. "If we get something done long term, that would be good. If we can’t, then he’ll play out his contract this year and we’ll see what the future brings. We won’t speculate and worry about it. We’ll keep going."
Owens has made only spot appearances around headquarters as he did attend their first session May 2-4th. But missed the second one later that month because he was in New Orleans playing a role in a movie known as "The Playmaker," a movie in which he does have a substantial role.
"It’s a volunteer camp like we had talked about all along and he chose not to come. That is his prerogative. I would have liked to have him here, but that is how it goes. It is his choice," said Dennis Erickson. "We’ve got a lot of young receivers and a lot of guys that can get things done. We are just working on the guys that are here. He and I have communicated back and forth. I talked to him just before camp and he decided not to come. To me, it’s no big deal. I would have liked to have him here, but again, it gives us a chance to look at a lot of other guys. We’ve had a lot of other guys, who have missed during the course of the mini-camps for different reasons. It’s like I said last week, I don’t believe that it will affect him July 25th when it counts. I would have liked to see him here, but that is his choice and his prerogative."
Rather Owens is using the missing attendance at mini-camps as a ploy or not is yet to be determined. But past experiences indicate that he is using it as a tool to jump start negotiations on his contract. With all the swirling controversies that are Terrell Owens from standing on the star at Texas Stadium to barking out complaints about Steve Mariucci throwing a game, or signing a football in the end zone. Terrell Owens will do just about anything to get headline news focused on him. He is someone though that takes his job seriously and is always in it to win and win big.
Owens always approaches a game with tremendous focus and intensity, he literally channels all of his energies and efforts into outperforming his opposition and to do everything within his power to give the 49ers the absolute best chance at obtaining victory. Owens is willing to battle to the end and will make the ultimate sacrifice if that needs to be done. Playing with such ferocity and conviction is a true picture of a loyal and dedicated athlete.
"Terrell Owens is Terrell Owens," Jeff Garcia said. "He is his own guy and his own beast. He makes decisions based upon what he feels. That’s how we’ve learned to accept his role. As much as we would love to have him here competing with us, we also know that he’s battling injuries and trying to stay healthy."
Fans are seemingly divided on the Terrell Owens issue. With many players becoming unrestricted free agents next year, one has to ask themselves rather Owens is worth losing several players in order to keep. Among the free agents to be are corner back Ahmed Plummer, cornerback Jason Webster, wide receiver Tai Streets and linebacker Julian Peterson. Certainly all of these players are high quality players that we should do everything possible to resign them, but reality looms high as the 2003 season closes and the salary cap clauses come due.
But then there is the primary playmaker of the San Francisco offense in Terrell Owens, someone that has manufactured the spotlight more than any other player on this team. He is the heartbeat and pulse of this offense in many ways, bar none from the running game. He had an incredible season this past season as he played through excruciating injuries most of the season.
He had to side step a groin injury and turf toe to grit his teeth and just keep on going. Those injuries still exist today but in much milder form as he continues to try and rehabilitate from them and become healthier by the day. He finished the season with 100 receptions for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. So even through all of the aches and pains and the extra defensive attention that was constantly rolled his way, he remained very effective overall.
If you look at the television screen or you happen to be the fortunate fan that is sitting right behind the team at midfield, you are able to fully appreciate the sideline antics of a Terrell Owens. No one in my opinion shows as much emotion and passion for the game as this man. He is always on a mission to succeed and do so at all costs. He is willing to make great sacrifices and entices his teammates to do the same.
Some would believe that Terrell Owens is stomping up and down the sidelines in a fit of rage, but really it is emotions and passion running wild. He wants to win and he wants what is best for his football team. In my opinion that is enough for me to give him my vote for a contract extension, because that sort of conviction is remote in the NFL.
"If you’re going to play at this professional level, I think you have to be demanding upon yourself," Owens said. "I don’t think you should need anybody to motivate you to go out there and play hard every Sunday or Monday. If you’re playing this sport and you’re really trying to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, then you should go out there every Sunday and play with a lot of heart and a lot of competitiveness and a lot of passion."
The personality of personalities Terrell Owens always stands by his convictions and his willingness to do anything to win. However you’ll always find Terrell Owens on the sidelines or in the locker room giving passionate speeches and trying to rally the troops when they are down and out. Defeat is never acceptable in his book and he takes that with great conviction. Certainly the San Francisco 49ers cannot dispute that he has made remarkable progress in asserting himself as a passionate and vocal leader on this team.
"Everybody thinks I’m fussing at the team, fussing at whomever I’m talking to," he said. "More than half the time, it’s just me trying to get the team fired up. My thing is just to try to be encouraging. Sometimes it may be heated in the way I’m discussing it, but anything I do is constructive criticism."
So where do the contract negotiations go from here? Should we sign the only true scoring playmaker on this 49er offense? It seems to me that we have little choice but to try and scrape every available penny to sign this absolute spectacle of an athlete. I like this guy with every fiber in my being and I believe he wants to still be a San Francisco 49er regardless if his hometown is back in Atlanta, Georgia.
"I firmly believe it is Terrell Owens desire to be a 49er, and our desire is to get him signed," Donahue said. "Now, can we get him signed before training camp? Maybe. Maybe not. But we’re going to continue to talk."
However you want to look at it Terrell Owens is obviously worth the money that is needed to keep him. But at what sacrifice? That is the question. He has even made an appearance on ESPN’s "Rome is Burning" and said he’s "underpaid" and willing to play for "any other team" in 2004 if the 49ers don’t show him enough money.
Guaranteed bonuses in the $20 million dollar range are what are expected for the popular wide receiver and I’m certain this will be the sticking point Owens will not budge on in negotiations. Slapping Owens with a franchise tag would only anger Owens and create disharmony in the 49er ranks, it would mean a bitter Terrell Owens who would send the 49ers through a media hell like it never has encountered before. Pleasing Owens and locking him up long term is the best deal the 49ers could fathom and should.
But there are ramifications to giving Terrell Owens what he wants. And those include losing multiple players to save Terrell Owens. The reality is that Owens continues to make comments in the direction of money that indicates that is what the priority is right now. Running his mouth on ESPN and claiming he will pack up all his "Sharpie" stuff and go elsewhere really drags at the heart strings of many a fan.
All 49er fans that have purchased a Terrell Owens jersey to wear or are already wearing are hopeful that that they will be able to continue wearing them with Owens on the field. I happen to have purchased a jersey myself this season of Terrell Owens that I will wear with great distinction after witnessing his passion and convictions on the field time after time last season. Although there is still a bit of the old selfish Owens left inside him, I believe the team player and leader by example are slowly overcoming his bad traits.
"There are guys that were before me that redefined this receiver position, such as Michael Irvin and Herman Moore the big, tall guys," Owens said. "I think I add another dimension to the game just by my aggressive play."
There are real doubts out there that Dr. John York will want to commit to a long-term contract that will strangle the purse strings of the 49er breadbasket. After all Terrell Owens does turn 30 on December 7th. And better still, will York really have that kind of cash just lying around after making a final payment of a reported $70 million to his wife’s brother, former owner Eddie DeBartolo, on July 1st.
Still even better is Terrell Owens a real team leader? Justifying paying a guy this kind of money will come into account. Other positions will be compromised should Terrell Owens gets what he wants in the form of at least three other positions that have a great impact in themselves in quarterback, running back and pass rusher. Certainly a lot of cash will be needed to sign are other free agents after this season, determining which one’s will be closely evaluated during the season as their play will be closely scrutinized in accordance with their ending contracts.
When you ask Terrell Owens to reflect on the 2003 season he looks forward to it with great anticipation and hope. It will be his first under new head coach Dennis Erickson who in a way will be under the gun as well in determining his worth as a coach that can bring a winning mentality back to this franchise. Just coming ever so close to the big game is not enough by 49er standards and both Erickson and Owens will be factored in heavily in that equation to offset that.
Being aggressive is in Owens mentality and adapting the 49er offense to that will be crucial for him to succeed, he can only do that with Erickson’s blessing and adopting that will be his mandate coming into training camp and pre-season demonstrations. Owens and Erickson should have the same passing attack mentality and you can bet that with a few big completions and some scoring touchdowns, that Erickson will favor the ball being thrown Terrell Owens way more than ever.
"It’s like playing basketball, just trying to make a guy miss. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help the team win and you can’t win if you don’t score points. I definitely try and be that x-factor for our team."
One thing is for sure though and that is that Terrell Owens is a true shoot from the hip kind of guy. He’ll say what is on his mind and he’ll give it his all for anyone that can show him the money. In a football world that is increasingly competitive and the windows of opportunity closing ever so much for each and every team, affording an elite player such as Terrell Owens will be one the greatest challenges for San Francisco.
Far from the mold of a Jerry Rice, Owens will set camera’s on fire with his stunts and spontaneous desire to have fun at all times. He immerses himself in controversy and he embraces scrutiny as well. He is a master of many disguises and is willing to play like a magician if need be to center the focus of attention on him. He adds a flavor to a game that I can’t quite describe because there is none like him that I have seen play the game the way that he does.
You either love this guy or you hate him. There are no gray areas when it comes to Terrell Owens, he’ll be the first one in my opinion to admit just that. He carries himself with flair of selfishness and cockiness at times, yet he can also be compassionate and caring when it comes to family and fans. He wears two hats at times and can be misconstrued easily by many, but that is vintage Terrell Owens and we really wouldn’t want anything less than that.
"At times, you have to take risks," Owens said. "You can’t be a success sometimes if you don’t take risks. You never know what can happen if you’re just passive." "We have a lot of talent on this team to get to the point where Tampa was. Definitely, we got to the second round, but we want to get over that hump."
The 31-6 divisional playoff loss last season to Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium still rings inside my head as I remember the utter disbelief and frustration of every 49er fan around the nation. I was with all of you in witness to this tragedy and all of its manifestations. I want us to get over the hump also, because I feel the window of opportunity closing as well.
I am hopeful and grateful in having a wide receiver such as Terrell Owens. I want to try and resign him no matter what it takes, but at the same time I hope that he will also be receptive in working a deal that will be salary cap friendly. For the long-term health of the team I hope he’ll step up like he did at the playoff game against the New York Giants and sign for our long-term health and be a positive role model for others to follow.
He has leadership skills and qualities all of which we want to draw out of him and make glow. He needs to look deep down in himself and know what the fans have given him here and around San Francisco. He has a new beginning now under new management and new coaching, he needs to give that in itself a chance. He wants and needs to be on a team that is a contender and what better one than us.