I got a chance to sit down with Terrell Owens on my radio show earlier in the week and had a very enjoyable conversation. It was clear, whatever his financial demands were a month ago, they've changed.
As Owens said, "I understand how contracts can work and you can be creative." The better the team and quarterback situation, the more likely he'll do a deal.
Where will T.O. land?
I did many NFL contracts during my time in the league and Owens' comments were a signal it could be time to strike a club-friendly deal with the veteran receiver. While he could possibly wait until a team incurs a serious injury at wideout and conceivably regain some leverage, I got the sense he wants to get to camp and build a relationship with his new quarterback.
When the conversation turned to how long it would take to get into game shape and learn a new system, Owens said he was in shape -- which I don't doubt -- but would like time to get comfortable with the offense. I think he's really uncomfortable being on the outside looking in. He willingly discussed some of his past decisions and why clubs might be reluctant to sign him, but tried to assure me he has mellowed with age.
I feel comfortable that Owens is different now. Still, I would use a contract structure to protect the club. Right now, he wouldn't consider a team that didn't have a shot at the playoffs, especially one with questions at QB, and I don't believe any of those clubs would consider him.
One coach said, "He doesn't fit where we are trying to go and I would be surprised if any club is going to flat out pay the guy."
Somone in personnel I spoke with compared Owens to draft picks, saying, "He's like a guy with first-round talent that looks a lot better in the fourth round when all the financial risk has been removed."
With all things considered -- looking at Owens' age, the uncertainty of things with the CBA in 2011, his recent production and the free-agent market, presenting a creative deal to Owens might be best rather than waiting. Here's the kind of deal I would offer. If he takes it, fine, and if he rejects it, move on.
It would be a two-year non-guaranteed deal with plenty of production incentives to reach good money. The first year would be worth $1.5 million and the second would pay Owens $5 million. If he lost a step and can't really play like he has in the past two seasons, he could be released at the final cut -- no harm, no foul.
I don't think that would happen to Owens, though one defensive backs coach said, "He has lost a step and isn't a guy you have to double all the time."
Although that might be true, Owens did start all 32 games over the last two seasons with 124 catches for 1,881 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. As for making the back end of the deal incentive-laden, it would look like this:
$150,000 -- 50 receptions
$150,000 -- 850 yards
$150,000 -- Six touchdowns
$150,000 -- 14 yards per catch (minimum 40 receptions)
$150,000 -- If he starts 10 games
If he hits all five of these incentives he earns another $750,000.
$250,000 -- 60 receptions
$250,000 -- 940 yards
$250,000 -- Eight touchdowns
$250,000 -- 15 yards per catch (minimum 50 receptions)
$250,000 -- If he starts 12 games
If you look at Owens' last two years in the league, these are his averages and he's worth an extra $1.25 million if he hasn't lost a step.
$500,000 -- 70 receptions
$500,000 -- 1,100 yards
$500,000 -- 10 touchdowns
$500,000 -- 16 yards per catch (minimum 60 receptions)
$500,000 -- If he starts 14 games
Of course these are non-cumulative incentives, which means he doesn't earn $250,000 for 60 receptions and get another $150,000 because he had to pass 50 catches to get there. He earns the highest level he achieves. If he's a bust, he's cut in August. If he has lost it and turns into a role player, he earns $1.5 million and probably most of the incentives in phase one and goes home with $2 million. If he plays like he did over the past two seasons, he goes home with about $3 million. If he's the guy he thinks he is, he takes home $4 million. If he hits all incentives in phase three, and there's football in 2011, the $5 million on the table is a good deal for all concerned, but the incentive package would be gone.
In the interview, Owens said no one can cover him one-on-one and he hasn't lost a step. Well, he's averaged 72.5 catches over the last four seasons with 1,104 yards in that span so that both incentives have to be reasonable to him. He also averaged over 15 yards a catch over that period and 15.5 starts a season. He has $2.5 million waiting for him if he's the same guy he's been for the past four years.
Even the coach who didn't want to sign Owens was intrigued by my contract proposal, and said he might reconsider it if Owens would sign the deal. It might be time to put the ball in his court.