Terrell Owens said he doesn’t watch many NFL games anymore, although he is training feverishly for a potential return at age 39.
After another Sunday of receivers dropping passes, missing blocks, running poor routes, or just succumbing to the significance of the moment, Owens hears updates from fans while walking the streets of Los Angeles, telling him he should be back in the league. He waits for a call, realizing several teams are desperate for receiving help — including the Patriots.
Yet the phone has been silent, and it’s perplexing. Owens does deserve another chance, and the Patriots, whose best receiver, Danny Amendola, has played one 16-game season in his first four years and could miss several more weeks this season, at least should give Owens a look.
It seems that after years of spectacular plays and that epic performance in Super Bowl XXXIX, but also off-the-field shenanigans, perceived selfishness, and some critical drops later in his career, Owens has been shunned by the NFL, preventing him from having the opportunity to finish his career on his feet, not on his back.
He is being repaid for his at-times-boorish behavior, being counted out because of a couple of dropped passes during his brief preseason stint with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. But in a pass-crazy league that’s desperate for quality receivers, it’s rather embarrassing that T.O. isn’t receiving at least a workout.
In Foxborough, the Patriots receiver with the most catches, Julian Edelman with 20, is averaging just 7.9 yards per reception, which is essentially a number for a running back. Aaron Dobson showed the potential to make a big play in the 13-10 win over the Jets Thursday night, but he also has the painful-to-watch habit of running incorrect routes or dropping passes.
Amendola went down after the first game of the season, after catching 10 passes for 104 yards against the Bills.
The Patriots need help and Owens needs a job.
“Obviously the situation with the Patriots, they are starting out with a lot of new guys,” Owens said. “You never know how management is thinking, what their process is as far as bringing in veterans.
“I understand they may look at my age as an issue but I’m not your average 39-year-old. I think if you watch me work out, I’m not really concerned about injuries or anything like that. Plus, I’ll be getting paid the vet minimum, so it’s not like I am asking for any extra incentive in my contract.
“I just want to play because I know I’m still competitive. I can play at a productive level. And the thing is, the last two or three teams that I’ve played on, they brought up my age issue but there’s never really been a decline in my production.
“I know that there’s some character issues that teams are worried about that’s understandably noted, but I am a different person than I was 10 years ago.”
In his last NFL season, 2010, Owens caught 72 passes for 983 yards and had nine touchdowns for the Bengals. He averaged 13.7 yards per reception and played in 14 of 16 games.
While Owens, who is sixth all-time in the league in receptions with 1,078, is not the game-breaker he was in San Francisco, Philadelphia, or even Dallas, it’s difficult to see how he wouldn’t be a serviceable No. 2 or No. 3 receiver for a team in need of a dependable pass catcher with the potential to gain more than 7.9 yards a grab.
The Patriots failed in recent experiments with Chad Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, but they desperately need an upgrade at receiver. Their Super Bowl window is closing, so the club cannot be so conservative and cautious when seeking talent. Owens is not asking for a multiyear deal or 150 targets, just an opportunity to show his skills at the practice facility sometime soon.
“Tom Brady has a lot of young guys and I’m sure he could use some veteran help and I would love to play for a guy like Bill Belichick and play with a quarterback like Tom,” Owens said. “They are going to try to win by [receiving] committee.
“Coach Belichick is a smart guy that has won with not necessarily a main receiver. Aside from when Randy [Moss] played there, they’ve really had a lot of guys to produce as a committee. That’s where I could possibly fit in. There’s a lot of teams I know that I could play for.”
Owens is working out at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. A two-minute video on his website shows a chiseled Owens grabbing passes against defenders in one-on-one coverage. He’s also competing with fans in his own fantasy league, “getchapopcornready.com.”
While Owens is past his prime, he’s intriguing, especially during this pass-happy era when quality receivers are at a premium. Owens realizes his at-times braggadocious past is primarily the reason his cellphone is silent, but he said the past few years have taught him humility if nothing else.
“What receiver has never griped about [getting] the football?” said Owens, second all-time to Jerry Rice in receiving yards with 15,934. “I think that’s a good trait to have if you’re a good receiver. If you don’t want it, that means you’re really not trying to win.
“But I’m not coming in there trying to disrupt anything. That’s what the thinking is with some of these organizations. That’s not my forte. If we’re winning ballgames, I don’t have a problem with it.
“I know I bring a lot to the table. Everybody that sees me knows I’m in great shape. They can put whatever clause in my contract they would like to.”
Owens realizes he may never play again. Approaching 40 is not a familiar age for an NFL receiver. Usually by then the first step is molasses, the breakaway speed is nonexistent, and the hands are brittle.
Owens is trying to defy the odds, and while he has remained in remarkable shape, it’s discouraging to him that 32 general managers are passing, even in places such as Jacksonville, Cleveland, and New England.
It’s a testament to the Roger Goodell NFL, one that has no tolerance for selfishness and perceived buffoonery when a player’s prime years are over.
Owens is saying all the right things, and let’s face it, if he signed with the Patriots tomorrow, he likely would be their second-best receiver. So why not fly him in for a look?
“The toughest part is not being able to go out on my own terms,” Owens said. “If you say I can’t play, then I can’t play. But I don’t think that’s really the case.
“I think it’s the reputation of the things I’ve done in the past. People won’t let my mistakes die. It’s just puzzling for me. I’m just keeping my faith, staying patient, and praying I get another opportunity.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.