The Buffalo Bills have only one more game to play this season, and that, alone, is enough reason to call the much-hyped signing of Terrell Owens a flop.
Specifically, it was a football flop. Owens never brought life to the perpetually lifeless Bills offense. And it was Buffalo's inability to move the ball through the air and score that was mostly responsible for keeping the team out of the playoffs for the 10th year in a row.
Through 15 games, Owens has 51 receptions for 764 yards and four touchdowns. Although his catches and receiving yards lead the team, they're among the poorest numbers of his 14-year career and a large chunk came in a two-game stretch in late November, when the Bills' playoff hopes were all but dead. Owens certainly wasn't helped by the fact the Bills never had any real offensive direction after firing coordinator Turk Schonert just before the start of the season and promoting a rookie, Alex Van Pelt, to the job ... and that they didn't have a legitimate starting quarterback ... and that their offensive line was undermanned and ravaged by injuries.
Still, Owens clearly seemed to lose interest in a season that he -- and anyone else paying even marginal attention to the Bills -- could see was going nowhere long ago. To his credit, he never became the divisive force he had been at all of his three previous NFL stops, but part of that could very well be a function of being on a team with nothing to inspire any true feelings of joy or rage.
Was the T.O. Experiment a business success? Absolutely. The Bills' investment of a one-year, guaranteed contract worth $6.5 million brought a healthy return in robust season-tickets sales and sponsorship income that otherwise wouldn't have come from a fan base whose only focus before Owens' arrival was counting the days/minutes/seconds until the firing of Dick Jauron (which finally came nine games into the season).
But it isn't sustainable. Owens' drawing power in Buffalo has all but vanished. The buying public is back to focusing on who will be in charge, and whether a new coach and general manager has what it takes to lead the Bills out of their malaise. How the club addresses its never-ending search for a franchise quarterback will be of far greater concern than any other roster issue.
Where does Owens fit in all of this? He probably doesn't. The Bills would likely place greater emphasis on having younger receivers form the core of a revamped offense and develop simultaneously with a new quarterback. Owens' recent tweet seemed to be a realistic view of his future with the Bills: "Sometimes things must come 2 an end, u hv 2 move on & accept wht life has 2 offer. So looking 4wd to 2010."
Owens, who turned 36 earlier this month, has said he would like to play for two more seasons. Multiple player-personnel people in the NFL say that, even though he is not the player he was in his prime, he remains in good enough physical condition to make that possible.
The fact he's a larger receiver with superior strength, they point out, would continue to make him attractive because that's the prototype for most offenses in the league. That was why he was able to land a job after his offseason release from the Dallas Cowboys and a smallish receiver such as Marvin Harrison, whose greatest asset (speed) had vanished, wasn't after he was cut by the Indianapolis Colts.
However, the experts universally agree that Owens should expect to be paid significantly less than he was this season. They estimate his best offer to play in 2010 to be another one-year deal worth about $2.5 to $3 million.
"If he wants to go somewhere and play at their price, he's got a chance at getting a job," one personnel evaluator from an NFC team said. "Given that he hasn't been too disruptive this year -- at least (no) public disruptions -- somebody may try to sign him. He does take care of himself. You can't take that away from him. But (the situation for Owens) is going to be the same as it was (before the 2009 season). You had one taker. And now he's a year older. And if you're Buffalo, I think you've got to try to develop some younger guys to see what you have because you're going to get as much production from somebody younger that has a chance to grow."
Said an AFC general manager: "He's slowed down very markedly and his hands were always rather suspect; if anything they've probably gotten a little bit worse. ... He's an older player for whom there is no upside. He certainly appears to have been a model citizen in Buffalo, but he's nevertheless a lightning rod, if you will. And if you're coming in with a new broom, why would you necessarily want that?"
The NFC personnel man said he wouldn't have signed Owens after the Cowboys sent him packing, and thought it was a bad idea for the Bills to do so because they did not have a quarterback who could take advantage of whatever skills T.O. brought to the team. The evaluator also thought the Bills spent far too much on Owens.
"Nobody else had wanted him, so why do you pay him as much as they did?" he said. "They probably could have gotten him for half the cost. Now, if he sold tickets and made them money on selling tickets, maybe it was worthwhile. I just think, with no other teams bidding, you didn't have to stretch with $6 million or whatever it was they gave him. Did he give them $6 million in production? No.
"If he thinks he's going to get that kind of money again, he's dreaming because, number one, he's getting older and, number two, his disruptions in the past. I'm sure (Owens' agent Drew) Rosenhaus told him, 'Keep your mouth shut and do as you're told and it'll pay off.' But the guy has been on good teams and been run out of those cities."