Owens' case heads to arbritration

OWINGS MILLS – Combative All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens called a reverse play Monday as his vehement dispute of his trade to the Baltimore Ravens was sent to arbitration by the players' union.<br><br> Owens contradicted his prior assertion that he would report to the Ravens if his pending grievance to try to void last week's trade from the San Francisco 49ers is unsuccessful.<br>

"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," Owens said in a statement released through his lawyers. "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." 

The Ravens said they remain confident that Owens will eventually play football in Baltimore this season despite his complaints, asserting that the trade is a binding one and that they intend to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection's rights. 

"This is out of our hands and is strictly a league and a union issue," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Terrell just feels very strongly that he should be a free agent and wants to explore it. His focus is on having some finality to this issue."

Owens, 30, was traded from the 49ers for a second-round draft pick. He has said several times that he prefers to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL management council ruled that he was not an unrestricted free agent because his agent, Dave Joseph, missed a deadline to file paperwork voiding the remaining three years of his contract.

Now, the case will be heard before special master Stephen B. Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor in charge of settling arguments regarding the league's collective bargaining agreement.

"Terrell Owens is clearly not a free agent under the rules," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "He failed to void his contract the way he was supposed to."

The Ravens can waive their right to conduct a physical, which would make the trade official. However, no physical will be conducted until the matter is resolved and Owens has refused to report.

NFL Players Association director of communications Carl Francis said the case could be heard as soon as Friday. Because the union concedes that Joseph missed the deadline and said it informed Joseph of the deadline by facsimile, it's unclear what the basis of Owens' argument will be.

Owens said he should simply be a free agent because that was his intention all along and the 49ers were aware that he wanted to leave.

"We've found some other ways to support Terrell's argument," Francis said. "It's best that we keep those theories to ourselves for our grievance. We have a little faith that things can still work out the best for Terrell."

Any decision by Burbank would be subject to review by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who oversees the collective bargaining agreement and appointed Burbank.

Burbank declined an e-mail request for an interview. He is traveling this week and is in Malibu, Calif.

Owens is set to earn $17.7 million in base salary over the final three years of his contract. Baltimore officials said they are willing to negotiate a contract extension and don't believe Owens is alienating the team or its fans with his stance.

"I think Terrell has gone out of his way to be very complimentary of us, at least he's tried to be," Billick said. "Once we have a chance to visit with him face-to-face and present who and what we're about, I'm very confident that he'll be excited about being here." 

Joseph had reportedly negotiated a contract with the Eagles that included a $10 million signing bonus and an annual salary in excess of $6 million. However, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said that the Eagles' reported trade offer of a fifth-round pick and receiver James Thrash was too low.

"First and foremost, I believe that I properly voided the remaining years on my contract," Owens said. "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."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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