Owens' case set to be resolved this weekend

OWINGS MILLS – The saga of All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens' legal battle to try to gain free-agent status and have his trade to the Baltimore Ravens nullified is set for a weekend conclusion.<br><br> NFL executive vice president of communications Joe Browne confirmed that Owens' case will be heard via conference call by special master Stephen B. Burbank on Saturday with a decision expected to be announced on Sunday. That decision is subject to review, though.<br>

Owens has said he prefers to play for the Philadelphia Eagles and might hold out if his trade to Baltimore is ratified.

"Hopefully, this will bring resolution to it," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team sent a second-round draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for Owens' rights. "That's why I've kind of kept an arm's length from it. We want to give the player his proper due to have his day in court with the issues that he has. Hopefully, we can move past this very quickly."

Owens' grievance will be argued by Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, and attorney Jeffrey Kessler, while Gregg Levy, the NFL's chief litigator will represent the league. 

Burbank is the University of Pennsylvania Law School professor in charge of resolving disputes arising from the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. 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 the league's special master in November, 2002.

This is Burbank's first case. Burbank declined an e-mail request for an interview.

Meanwhile, Owens told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was shocked, disgusted and depressed about the trade to Baltimore and expressed that sentiment repeatedly to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome after the trade was completed.

Owens' account of Newsome's end of their conversation: "He kept telling me that right now, ‘You're the property of the Baltimore Ravens. Just trust me on this. I'll make you like this situation.' 

"And I just kept telling him, ‘Dude, you can't make me like anything. I know what I want, and I want to be in Philadelphia.'"

This doesn't appear to be much of a showdown since the NFL management council ruled that Owens' trade was binding and that he shouldn't have been allowed to become a free agent because his agent, Dave Joseph, had failed to void the remainder of his contract by a Feb. 21 deadline. Owens and his agent have maintained that they never received a fax informing them that the deadline for filing that required paperwork had been moved up.

When Owens was asked by the Inquirer if he held his agent responsible for the clerical error that ignited this situation, he said: "I believe him. If he said he didn't get the fax, he didn't get the fax. I asked Gene Upshaw to send me the same fax he sent David. I saw it and it had the Feb. 21 deadline on there. So, I know good and well if David had seen the same fax I saw, it's a no-brainer. Why would he not send the necessary paperwork to the league?

"Plus, under the CBA, even if the NFLPA sent the fax, they're supposed to send certified mail to back that fax up just to avoid these circumstances. As a player, I'm entitled to that same notification. So, the NFLPA may say David Joseph screwed up, but they screwed up, too. I will never turn my back on him."

If Owens is allowed to become a free agent, he would likely sign the deal Joseph negotiated with the Eagles for a reported $10 million signing bonus with annual salaries in excess of $6 million. However, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said the Eagles' trade offer of a fifth-round draft pick and receiver James Thrash was too low to accept.

The Ravens have said they are willing to renegotiate the current terms of $17.7 million in base salary over the final three years of Owens' contract and pay him based on his production of more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown catches over the last four years.

That might not be enough money, though, to satisfy Owens, who was openly recruited by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis at the Pro Bowl.

"I haven't spoken to Ray since the trade, but I did speak to him a week beforehand," Owens said. "He asked me before the Eagles came into the picture what did I want. I told him a $23 million signing bonus, knowing I was overpricing myself. That's how reluctant I was to go there."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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