Owens' absence a negotiating ploy?

Conspicuous by his absence, Terrell Owens just keeps staying away from the 49ers. As the team began its final spring minicamp Monday, T.O. The Great was nowhere to be seen, making him 1-for-4 in Niners minicamps he has attended this year. The 49ers say they want him here but aren't concerned that he isn't, and it's becoming clear that Owens - who's entering the final year of his contract - is posturing for a new deal by missing in action.

"I've heard that, like you've all heard that as well," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said Monday. "But I don't know. I haven't talked to T.O. Of course, we'd prefer that he be here. That's logic. But it's not mandatory and it's not that critical. It really isn't. He's an All-Pro player, he knows what he's doing. The offense has not changed very much. Would it be better that he's here? Of course. Is it going to be something were going to get worked up about or worry about? Frankly, it's not."

But this appears to be Owens' way of beginning negotiations on a new contract. Or accelerating them.

Donahue said that he recently had discussions with Owens' agent, David Joseph, who visited the team facility last week. No precise numbers for a new contract were discussed, Donahue said, but negotiations on a new deal for the receiver may be addressed on a more specific basis later this month.

"We had good conversations with David Joseph," Donahue said. "We talked about a variety of subjects and it was all good. He was very open and we were, too. I would characterize these talks as upbeat and positive and optimistic."

But the Niners are in no rush to push the procedure. After all, they already have a deal with Owens for the upcoming season.

"We have a contract with T.O.," the GM said. "There's no urgency on our part to rush into anything. If we can get something done long-term, that would be good. It would be great for the 49ers, and I think it would be very good for T.O. If we can't, then he'll play on his contract this year and we'll continue to work and we'll see what the future brings. We have absolutely no timetable. We have no need for one."

Coach Dennis Erickson, who spoke with Owens before Monday's camp began, said the receiver did not give a reason for his absence. Even though Owens also missed minicamps in each of the past two weeks, Erickson downplayed the fact Owens was the only veteran on the roster not in attendance.

"It's a volunteer camp," Erickson said. "And he chose not to come. That's his prerogative. I would have liked to have him here. But that's how it goes. That's his choice."

The absence of Owens at team workouts the past month has allowed more time for youngsters such as Cedrick Wilson and rookie draft picks Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle to participate in team drills during practice. Those three are attempting to establish themselves in the receiving rotation behind starters Owens and Tai Streets.

"This is a team game, and it would be great to have (Owens) out there working out with the team," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "I don't know what his schedule's like right now, so I can't really speak for T.O., but he's missed in certain ways. But I think you have to really turn it into a positive in a sense that there are a lot of young receivers that are trying to compete and they're getting some tremendous opportunities out there."

Garcia said the 49ers have learned to accept Owens going his own way in certain situations.

"T.O. is T.O.," Garcia said. "He's his own guy and his own beast and he makes decisions based upon what he feels, and that's just what we've learned to accept about his role in that sense. As much as we would love to have him competing with us, we also know that he's battling injuries, trying to get healthy. Whether he's doing that back at home or not … We hope so."

Said Erickson, "I do not believe it's going to affect him July 25 when it counts. He'll be here for training camp and ready to go for September when we play our first game. And that's the most important thing."

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