Owens needs to be put in place

The specter of Terrell Owens just won't go away, hanging over the 49ers like an albatross. The Niners thought they finally had washed their hands of the T.O. Problem last week, gaining an unexpected second-round draft pick from the Ravens to boot. But Owens didn't appear for his scheduled physical in Baltimore on Monday, then railed on about how he doesn't see himself playing there in 2004, sending the Niners into semi-limbo regarding the repressive receiver perhaps until the end of this week.

It's the big joke going on in the NFL right now, even after the NFL Player's Association jumped in over the weekend to support Owens, which seems like an obvious political move by NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, who wants to save face for the union by not letting it appear that organization would strand a high-profile player in his time of apparent need.

The fact that Owens - who has filed a grievance with the NFL Management Council through the NFLPA - is whining so loudly made it a little difficult for the NFLPA to look the other way and not take some sort of stance. But it only should drag out the process that will ultimately see Owens playing in Baltimore, with a firm decision made to that effect sometime this week.

Of course, that's not the world according to T.O. at the moment. On Monday, instead of taking his physical with the Ravens, Owens issued a statement that said, "So that there is no misunderstanding, regardless of what happens with the grievance, under the present circumstances I do not see myself playing for the Ravens. I can assure everyone that I will continue to keep fighting for my right to play for the team of my choice even after the grievance. At the end of this process, I simply want to be able to exercise my right to play for a team of my choosing under a deal that is fair to me and my family."

Owens certainly has that right. But, let's face it, he relinquished that right when his agent, David Joseph, bungled Owens' free-agency plans when Joseph missed a deadline to void the final three seasons of Owens contract with the 49ers.

Joseph made a mistake - an error that the NFLPA admits Joseph made. It happens. That's life. But life goes on, and you deal with consequences. For Owens to be declaring he has been wronged by the process that has sent him to Baltimore - which is saying, despite Owens' embarrassing comments, that it is willing to give him a lucrative new contract anyway - is just another example of Owens' unwillingness to operate within the reasonable structure that made him a wealthy star athlete.

Now Upshaw is asking the league to overturn the trade and have Owens' contract voided so he can be declared a free agent. Upshaw has sent the case to Stephen Burbank, an arbitrator in charge of settling disputes regarding the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. Under that agreement, the special master's decision would be subject to review by a U.S. District judge who oversees the league's collective bargaining agreement. A special-master case is a trial-like proceeding and differs from the usual grievance process, in which the parties present their cases to an arbitrator.

Meanwhile, the Ravens - who could have voided the deal when Owens didn't show up for his physical - sit by, waiting for a decision they fully expect will keep Owens under contract to them. And the Niners sit by, perhaps in the back of their minds wondering if indeed they still should be making plans for that No. 51 pick in the draft at the end of April.

"First and foremost, I believe that I properly voided the remaining years on my contract," Owens said in his statement. "However, as a possible resolution to this dispute, I agreed to try and work out a new deal with a team of my choice that would be backed up by a trade with the 49ers. I was promised that no trade would be made until I completed such a deal. Unfortunately, all of the teams did not adhere to this agreement and we now have an even bigger mess."

Somehow, it's a little difficult take T.O.'s word on some of the particulars in that statement. It's a big mess, all right, and it needs to be cleared up once and for all by putting a disturbing force in his place - which is now Baltimore, by the way - and letting the rest of us know that reason does indeed prevail over reckless, me-first behavior in pro football.

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