By Larry O'Rourke
Of The Morning Call
The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to part today with the player who became their albatross in 2005.
Terrell Owens — who was suspended and exiled for the final nine games of the Eagles' first losing season since 1999 — will be released into a pool of free agents that is expected to include an unusually large number of other big-name players.
The Eagles are expected to part with Owens today because the second of two guaranteed years in his seven-year, $49-million contract will officially expire when the NFL's business year ends at 4 p.m.
Owens would receive a $2.5-million signing bonus and a $5-million roster bonus if he remained on the Eagles' roster heading into the NFL's 2006 business year.
The Eagles granted Owens' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, permission to seek a trade, and Rosenhaus reportedly met with Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys officials in recent weeks. But it was unlikely teams would send the Eagles a draft pick or any other compensation knowing that Philadelphia was expected to release Owens.
Owens, who caught 20 touchdown passes in 21 regular-season games with the Eagles, can expect to find a lot of big-name company in the free agency pool.
Negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the owners and players union stalled this week, complicating teams' plans for free agency and leading to speculation that teams will reluctantly part with some big-money players who are heading into the non-guaranteed portions of their contracts. The Buffalo Bills made one of the first such releases Wednesday, parting with 12-year veteran defensive tackle Sam Adams. Buffalo, which was already was believed to be from $2-5 million under the salary cap, was expected to gain another $3.5 million of space by releasing Adams.
Without a new CBA — which would be expected to increase the cap for 2006 to approximately $105 million per team — teams would have to use the expected $95-million cap figure for 2006. Free agents and teams also would be left to ponder the implications of an uncapped 2007 season.
The Eagles are reportedly at least $14 million under the salary cap, and only six teams — Minnesota, Arizona, Cleveland, Green Bay, San Francisco and San Diego — are thought to have more room.
Two of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, Washington and Dallas, reportedly are among 13 teams over the cap. Those teams will have to restructure contracts or release players to get under it.
The Redskins are believed to be at least $17 million over, leading to speculation they will have to jettison so many veterans that they could field a roster with as many as 20 rookies in 2006. The Cowboys reportedly are only $1.2 million over the cap.
The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly $7 million over the cap, but that number will be reduced significantly when running back Jerome Bettis officially retires.
Teams can begin talking to and signing free agents after midnight tonight.
Even without the expected early dumping of veterans, the Eagles were expected to have some targets in the free agent pool.
Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antwaan Randle El undoubtedly would draw interest because he not would bolster the receiver corps, he can also play on special teams and be an emergency backup quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Joe Jurevicius could add a veteran presence, take pressure of 2005 second-round draft pick Reggie Brown and ease concerns about whether Todd Pinkston will return to pre-Achilles tear form after missing all of last season.
New Orleans center LeCharles Bentley could be targeted to replace Hank Fraley, who finished last season on injured reserve and received some criticism for his play against New England in the Super Bowl.
Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson will carry his team's transition player tag into free agency, giving the Seahawks the right to match an offer. But given Philly's offensive line woes, the Eagles might make him an offer — likely having to include $10 million-plus in bonus money — the Seahawks find too high.
With the salary cap implications created by the uncertain future of the CBA, it's likely other players — most notably Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington and Buffalo wideout Eric Moulds — could be released. But Arrington and Moulds each come with baggage, having sparred with their coaches and/or front offices in the last year, something that the Eagles undoubtedly would consider in light of their problems with Owens.
Two Eagles starters, right tackle Jon Runyan and weakside linebacker Keith Adams, are due to be unrestricted free agents, along with four other Eagles: running back Lamar Gordon, tight end Chad Lewis and defensive ends N.D. Kalu and Juqua Thomas.