League, union argue Terrell Owens' case

OWINGS MILLS – The contentious Terrell Owens situation became litigious on Monday. And the Baltimore Ravens are expected to learn tomorrow whether their trade for the All-Pro wide receiver will stand or be nullified.

In an arbitration hearing held Monday morning before NFL special master Stephen B. Burbank at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, lawyers for the players' union argued that Owens voided his contract properly and in time to be granted free-agent status and that his trade from the San Francisco 49ers should be rescinded. Burbank is expected to render his decision via e-mail on Tuesday to the respective parties.

Jeffrey Kessler, the union's primary outside lawyer, contended to reporters in Philadelphia that Owens actually didn't miss the deadline to void his deal. Kessler noted that Owens signed his contract prior to an amendment to the league's collective bargaining agreement struck three years ago that moved the deadline up to void his contract.

The players' union said Owens' contract, which was negotiated during the summer of 1999, contains a clause specifying that he can void his pact on the final date of the league year, midnight on March 2, the day before the veteran signing period began.

"Very simply, the language that changed certain player dates did not apply to his contract," Kessler told reporters. "Our strongest point is that Mr. Owens exercised his voidable within the time period that is prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement and the class action settlement agreement, and that's what we hope the arbitrator will decide.

"The correct deadline was followed and that's what we hope will be ruled upon. He sent proper notice within the time period. The bottom line is that he was within the time period. That's what the agreement provided for and we believe we're going to win."

Meanwhile, lawyers for the NFL countered that Owens' agent, Dave Joseph, missed a revised deadline of Feb. 21 that was established and should apply to all players. The NFL has stressed that Joseph was notified of the change.

"If they had done what they were supposed to do, this wouldn't have ever become an issue," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

A report posted on CBS Sports' Web site said that possible settlements involving compensatory draft picks being awarded to the 49ers and Ravens were discussed Monday. Owens has repeatedly said he wants to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The league was represented by Gregg Levy, its chief litigator. Aiello said that incoming Ravens team executive Richard Cass attended the hearing.

The Ravens reportedly sent in an addendum noting their intention to re-sign receiver Marcus Robinson, who has since joined the Minnesota Vikings, if they hadn't traded their second-round draft pick to the 49ers for the four-time Pro Bowl receiver.

49ers team president John York said the league has a "strong" case.

The players' union, also represented by general counsel Richard Berthelsen, said they stuck with the language in Owens' contract as their chief argument.

"He had negotiated something beyond what anyone else had negotiated," NFL Players Association union chief Gene Upshaw told reporters outside the law school after the end of the 2 1/2 hour hearing. "When we put this agreement in place, we were not taking away rights that players were able to negotiate individually.

"He was able to negotiate that and that is what we pointed out to the special master. He actually negotiated March 15, or whichever is earlier, the end of the league year, which was March 2."

When Upshaw was asked about the facsimile that he told the New York Times he sent Joseph to remind him of the date change involving his client, he said: "We're not arguing that case. We're arguing a different case."

When asked what the NFL argued, Upshaw replied: "That we're wrong."

A decision by Burbank, a law professor hearing his first case as special master, can be appealed to U.S. District Judge David Doty. Doty, who works in Minneapolis, oversees the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement and supervises Burbank.

If the trade is rescinded, Owens would become a free agent and the Ravens would retain their second-round pick. Owens and his agent didn't attend the hearing.

Kessler said that arguments previously made in newspapers over the last few weeks were irrelevant to this case. He predicted they would have no bearing on Burbank's decision.

"It's a very, very simple issue," Kessler said. "He had a date to exercise by. We had an agreement that moved certain dates. His was not one of the dates that was moved. If it wasn't moved, he was on time.

"The Feb. 21 date had no relationship to Mr. Owens. It's the date in his player contract, which was March 2. And he clearly met that date and that's what we believe the special master will rule."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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