There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL these days.

But you can bet the house on this: Most likely when this season is over, someone in some NFL city that doesn’t have a team named the Eagles will offer Terrell Owens a place to catch footballs.

They’ll do it because they salivate at supreme talent, so much that they’ll overlook the baggage that comes along with it. They’ll do it because they just can’t help themselves.

That’s what brought Owens to Philadelphia to begin with. He was the missing link to a Super Bowl, the impact player who could finally get the Eagles out of the NFC championship game.

The other stuff in San Francisco? That was just T.O. being T.O. Nothing that a change of scenery and a new coach couldn’t take care of.

Turns out Owens is a cancer that transcends team boundaries. And he spreads quickly. It took him less than a season and a half in Philadelphia to create such a mess that’s now beyond repair.

You know the story by now. Before the season even began, Owens pouted about his contract, sniped at his quarterback, and feuded with his coaches.

He graduated in the last week to fighting in the locker room and suggesting another quarterback would make his team a lot better.

That earned Owens his second suspension of the year, and on Monday the Eagles upped the ante by saying Owens will not play for the team the rest of the season.

They did it because both management and players have finally realized they’ll be a better team without him. As good as he is – and no one disputes his talent on the field – Owens can’t catch enough balls to make up for the way he has pitted teammate against teammate and bit by bit torn down what had been a very good football team. Donovan McNabb said as much Sunday night, taking an indirect shot at Owens after the Eagles lost to the Washington Redskins and fell to the bottom of an NFC East division they dominated long before Owens arrived.

“We played as a team,” McNabb said. “Nothing against him and his attitude. It’s just when you get out there on the football field, it’s about playing together. I think we all played with a lot of attitude and a lot of adrenaline.” They did it with a rookie lining up in Owens’ spot, one who didn’t dare try pulling out a Sharpie to sign autographs when he scored his first NFL touchdown on a 56-yard pass from McNabb in the first quarter. Reggie Brown proved an able replacement for Owens, catching five passes for 94 yards.

The most selfish player in football, meanwhile, was presumably tidying up his house in Moorestown, N.J., which he has put up for sale. Smart move, because the money will come in handy now that Owens will lose $800,000 during his four-game suspension.

After that, the Eagles will deactivate Owens, but will pay him about $1 million to stay away for the final five games.

The Eagles know now that they should have cut ties with Owens when he poisoned the team’s training camp with his displays of petulance.

But you’ve got to give them some credit for finally coming to their senses and to the defense of McNabb, who had become Owens’ favorite whipping boy.

McNabb had apparently finally had it, reportedly standing up before his teammates a few days ago and telling them they either followed him or they followed Owens.

The question now isn’t whether Owens is leaving, because he’s gone.

The NFL player’s union will appeal his deactivation but the union is notoriously weak and doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Now you have to wonder where he’ll go and what team will take him.

Whoever does will have to wonder what it will take to make Owens happy, because the seven-year, $48.97 million deal he got from the Eagles last year obviously wasn’t good enough.

And what team would risk a big signing bonus or a long-term deal on a player who is so self-centered that he threw a fit when his 100th career touchdown reception wasn’t properly acknowledged on the stadium’s video screen?

It won’t be Baltimore because Owens already dissed the Ravens. It won’t be in Minneapolis because the Vikings just got done unloading their own problem child.

And it won’t be in Green Bay because, no matter how Owens feels about Brett Favre, Packers fans like their receivers to be huggable.

Whoever it is better have a quarterback willing to take some abuse.

Just listen to Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell when he was asked about the prospect of throwing to someone like Owens.

“If we had any players that were trying to get all the attention and trying to be the focus we wouldn’t stand for it,” Brunell said. “It wouldn’t be allowed. We wouldn’t want any part of it.”

Brunell understands, as every coach anyone has ever had from Pop Warner on up preaches, that football is a team game. That’s even more true in the NFL, where everything from the morning meal to the first 20 plays of the game is scripted and structured and individuality is frowned upon.

Still, someone will take a chance.

They’ll do it because, try as they might, they can’t resist the lure of a gamebreaking wide receiver.

The prospect of Owens playing for their team will dazzle them like a brilliant diamond.

It won’t be long, though, before they realize this diamond is not only fake, but deeply flawed.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org


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