Owens' agent redeemed by NFL Management Council's decision
Posted: Tuesday March 23, 2004 3:42PM; Updated: Tuesday March 23, 2004 3:44PM
Let's get something straight. Terrell Owens has proven to be a selfish, me-first character of the worst sort. But he and his agent, David Joseph, deserve kudos for getting the best of NFL lawyers. Joseph probably deserves an apology, too.
Everything you read and heard as the Owens Affair played out cast the NFL as having a slam-dunk case. The league seemed almost gleeful about it. Owens' agent was portrayed as asleep at the wheel, accused of failing to meet a Feb. 21 deadline for voiding his contract with the San Francisco 49ers that would have made his client a free agent. T. O. could bitch all he wanted, but , according to the rules he'd play for the Baltimore Ravens -- to whom the 49ers traded him on March 4 -- or not at all.
Well, Joseph proved to be either smart as a fox or the NFL Management Council did a horrible job chatting up special master Stephen Burbank. From what we hear, Burbank let league folks know their case was shaky at best. That version of events seems to make sense. Why else would the NFL sign off on a three-way deal that ultimately sent Owens to his desired landing spot in Philadelphia?
Sorry if we're cynical, but it's a shocker to see a sports agent walk away unscathed from such a public scuffle, considering the recent series of gaffes that have sullied the industry's already-suspect reputation. Joseph claims his stature was vindicated by the original opt-out deadline of March 2 spelled out in the 1999 contract signed by Owens and the 49ers, as well as in renegotiated deals in 2000 and 2001 -- and they weren't bound by the earlier deadline later agreed to by the Players Association.
Interestingly, the union initially agreed with the NFL that Owens was bound by the Feb. 21 deadline, and leadership claims to have faxed Joseph a list with his client's name on it. Joseph says his office never received the fax, which raises a question about how the union communicates with its members.
But if Owens & Co. felt their case was so strong, why sign off on the trade? Why limit their options to Philadelphia? Why not break the door down and push for free agency?
The market figured to come down to Baltimore and Philadelphia -- and Owens wanted no part of the Ravens. The New York Jets and Atlanta had been targeted early, but never emerged as players. Cleveland was a possibility until the Browns signed quarterback Jeff Garcia, who felt Owens' wrath when they were teammates in San Francisco.
So Owens settled for $16 million in guaranteed money from Philadelphia and what Joseph says is the best deal for a receiver not named Randy Moss. That's vindication of sorts, right?
"The problem is I've been painted as some guy who doesn't know what he's doing and slept through the [opt-out] date," Joseph says. "That is not accurate. We did exactly what our contract said and what we bargained for. We were made to look the fool and it isn't right.
"Now media people are saying, 'Oh, Terrell didn't get his way so he started jumping up and down and that's why the NFL changed its position.' No, the NFL got taken to task on this. They made a mistake."
That's tough to accept because Owens isn't a sympathetic character and we're used to questioning the competence of agents not pro leagues. Just look at recent history. Jerome Stanley, the agent for Browns receiver Dennis Northcutt, doesn't dispute that he missed an opt-out deadline. Carl Poston, the representative for linebacker LaVar Arrington, has filed a grievance, claiming a $6.5 million roster bonus agreed upon for 2006 is missing from his contract extension. Interestingly, the Washington Redskins contend Poston initialed every page of the final document.
To date, the most costly blunder came last June when agent Bill Duffy failed to file the paperwork to exercise Anthony Carter's $4.1 million option with the Miami Heat. Carter later settled for a two-year, $1.5 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs, only to reach an injury settlement after blowing out his knee.
Duffy calls his filing blunder a "human error" and says he's reimbursed Carter for his financial loss. It seems his agency has a standard errors-and-omissions policy to cover such losses, though Duffy says it wasn't used in this situation.
"For me, nothing has changed," Duffy says. "My current clients, recruited clients -- nothing. I've gotten a lot of respect from people who said I took responsibility for what happened and [for] having taken care of it.
"What is more interesting is the agents over the years who have stolen money from players. I don't have a history like that. I think I'm up about $900 million in trying to get contracts for these guys."
Great, but who is an athlete to trust with overseeing his contract? He'd be well advised to do some of his own homework, because as best we can tell the players associations aren't much help -- and the NFLPA wasn't entirely blameless in the Owens Affair. It doesn't maintain files or records on agents who've flubbed filing deadlines.
Maybe that would be a nice start.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.