PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Terrell Owens appears no closer to returning to the field this season as his grievance hearing against the Philadelphia Eagles went to a lengthy arbitration on Friday.

As of late Friday evening, talks were ongoing and arbitrator Richard Bloch hadn’t issued a ruling more than 12 hours after the hearing started. The dismissed Owens is seeking reinstatement, but the receiver probably won’t play again for the Eagles – no matter the outcome.

The All-Pro wideout was suspended on Nov. 5 following a series of incidents in which he again criticized quarterback Donovan McNabb, called the organization “classless” and fought with former teammate Hugh Douglas, who serves as team “ambassador.”

Two days later, the Eagles extended the suspension to four games and told Owens not to return to the team. Owens is losing more than $200,000 per game from his $3.5 million salary. He would be paid for the games he doesn’t play if the Eagles deactivate him as planned once the suspension is up.

The NFL Players’ Association wants Philadelphia to release Owens if he’s not going to be reinstated after the four-game suspension is over. Lawyers for the players’ union argued Owens’ punishment for conduct detrimental to the team was excessive and the suspension should be reduced.

The Eagles insist the suspension is justified, and also could be seeking to reclaim about $1.8 million of the $9 million signing bonus they gave Owens last year because they believe the petulant receiver violated his contract terms when he failed to show up at a mandatory post-draft camp in the spring.

Philadelphia most likely would make a decision on Owens – either releasing or trading him – by next March, when he is due to receive a $5 million roster bonus.

Owens arrived for the hearing with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, shortly after 9 a.m. Friday morning. Eagles coach Andy Reid showed up about 41/2 hours later following the team’s practice. Team president Joe Banner, offensive coordinator Brad Childress, head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, and Douglas also were expected to testify, though it’s not known if all did. Owens’ relationship with the Eagles took a drastic turn after he fired longtime agent David Joseph, hired Rosenhaus and demanded a new contract just one season into the seven-year, $48.97 million deal he signed when he came to Philadelphia in March 2004.

The Eagles refused to redo the deal and Owens has clashed with management since. He earned a one-week exile from training camp after a heated dispute with Reid that followed a shouting match with Childress.

Soon after Philadelphia lost to New England in the Super Bowl, Owens took his first verbal shot at McNabb, suggesting the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback was tired in the fourth quarter of the loss. McNabb responded harshly and the two didn’t speak for a prolonged period in training camp. They briefly reconciled their relationship and performed well together on the field – Owens had 47 catches for 763 yards and six TDs in seven games.

After Owens sat out a 17-10 loss to Washington, McNabb said the team was “better off” without its top playmaker.

McNabb, however, threw a crucial interception that was returned for the winning score in the final minutes of a 21-20 loss to Dallas on Monday night that dropped the last-place Eagles to 4-5. McNabb now is facing the possibility of season-ending surgery for a sports hernia, and will miss Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.

A contrite Owens pleaded for another chance in a public apology outside his home in Moorestown, N.J., one day after the Eagles told him to go home. Some players, including linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, said this week they would welcome Owens back. But management hasn’t changed its stance.

Owens was set to earn base salaries of $770,000 in 2006, $5.5 million in 2007, $6.5 million in 2008, $7.5 million in 2009, and $8.5 million in 2010.

AP-ES-11-18-05 2230EST


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