The Seahawks signed Terrell Owens to a one-year contract on Monday. It was a short-sighted, possibly disastrous decision.
I base this suddenly “controversial opinion” on the decade-plus of evidence that existed about Owens until early this week, when a sudden revisionist storm rolled through the league on a low-pressure system caused by ex-players saying nice things about a guy they will probably bump into at golf tournaments. While it’s always good to keep an open mind about a free-agent gamble, Owens spent an awfully long time closing an awful lot of minds. There is such a thing as too much benefit of the doubt.
Here are several of the reasons why signing Terrell Owens was a major mistake. An exhaustive list would be so long that it would tie up your Internet connection.
Owens is 38 years old. He will be 39 in December. He was out of football last year. Here is a list of receivers within one year of Owens’ age who were Pro Bowlers in their day but were out of football in 2011: Terry Glenn, Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer (turns 38 before the opener), Eddie Kennison, Muhsin Muhammad. Here are some good receivers much younger than Owens who are now out of football: Torry Holt, Hines Ward, Peerless Price, Marty Booker, Chris Chambers, Laveranues Coles.
Owens has shown no evidence of defying the age curve. He entered an obvious decline phase after the 2007 season, his last All-Pro season. His yards per catch dipped in every season after that. His receptions and yards dropped significantly in 2008 and 2009 before a little mirage bounce in 2010. Owens has been fading for years, and he no doubt faded a little more during his season of injury rehab and indoor football.
Even with his skills fading, Owens may still have what it takes to be a third receiver for a good team, but good teams don’t sign 38-year-olds to be third receivers. Roster spots and practice reps are precious, and backup wideouts are expected to be either developing prospects or versatile role players. Owens is neither. He’s a luxury item, the kind that a team like the Patriots might be able to afford, but a still-rebuilding team like the Seahawks absolutely cannot.
Notice that the primary reason why signing Owens was a mistake has nothing to do with his reputation as a divisive locker room migraine, a reputation that he has been saddled with because of his decade-long commitment to being a divisive locker room migraine. Let’s touch on that minor detail now.
Owens hasn’t changed. When we last heard from Owens, he quit the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League with two games left in the season. Wranglers GM Drew Pearson, a former Pro-Bowl receiver, said that Owens “was a model citizen and did everything right, but throughout the season, that enthusiasm continually deteriorated.”
Before the IFL odyssey, Owens played one season for the Bengals. He appeared on a reality show with Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals went 4-12, and Owens spent the final games of the season criticizing the entire organization while sidelined with an injury.
The year before that, Owens played for the Bills. Owens had a nine-catch, 197-yard game against the Jaguars (in a loss) and caught 46 passes for 632 yards in the other 14 games. The Bills went 6-10 and fired their coach in midseason. But Owens didn’t do or say anything inflammatory, so this was a “good” year.
The year before that, Owens complained that Tony Romo throws too many passes to Jason Witten, then cried about his relationship with Romo after the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs. Owens also accidently (according to the final police report) overdosed on painkillers during his Cowboys tenure. It takes a special player to produce so many scandals that the overdose doesn’t arrive until the end of the fifth paragraph.
And his one-man effort to rip up a Super Bowl team by its foundations gets “oh, remember this?” treatment in the sixth paragraph.
The guy who put himself above Donovan McNabb and the Eagles in 2005 was still putting himself above Pearson and the Wranglers in June. The ego is still big; it’s the leagues that keep getting smaller. It’s a pattern that never changes. The only difference now is that Owens is too old to qualify as “worth the headaches.”
The “Grab an Old Goofball Receiver” strategy never works. Old Goofball receivers are always on the free-agent market, and teams sometimes cannot help but take a chance on them. So far, here’s a breakdown on the “Old Goofball” success rate:
Old Goofballs who helped: Randy Moss for the Patriots.
Old Goofballs who were useless, at best: every single one of the others. And “old” Moss was 30 when the Patriots got him.
Owens, as we have seen, was a nonfactor-distraction-disruption for the Bills, Bengals and Wranglers. Moss’ tenures with the Titans and Vikings should have been fair warning to the Niners. Plaxico Burress had an Owens season for the Jets last season: the numbers were better than the production, and the receiver-starved Jets decided to not to retain him.
There is a rising generation of new Old Goofballs, including Roy Williams, Antonio Bryant and Braylon Edwards, beginning their sojourns from team to team. Edwards is Owens’ teammate now, and Bryant just flunked a tryout with the Seahawks. Many coaches think that they can “reach” these guys. It rarely happens. Old Goofballs don’t help teams win Super Bowls for three reasons: a) they are old; b) they are goofballs; c) smart organizations, the kind likely to be one player away from winning the Super Bowl, are acutely aware of a) and b).
The Seahawks have a quarterback controversy. Of course, there is no reason to think that the guy who ripped McNabb, Romo and Jeff Garcia would have anything non-constructive to say about Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson or Russell Wilson, unless you believe in things like consistent, documented patterns of behavior.
Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Here is the past that the Seahawks are now doomed to repeat. Owens will catch 45 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns: Plaxico Burress’ exact production from 2011. The Seahawks will go 6-10. Owens will lose interest in the team as soon as he reaches a performance bonus or two, and we will all know it. The Seahawks will cut him after the season, and his locker room politicking will linger as the team spends a second season trying to sort out its quarterback situation.
Owens will then lobby publically to play in the NFL in 2013, and we will hear about how he keeps himself in great shape and put up pretty good numbers, last year, again.