A few months ago, back when I thought signing soon-to-be-free-agent Terrell Owens would be a good upgrade for the Philadelphia Eagles' anemic passing game, I talked to Eagles coach Andy Reid. "I've [coached] Owens at the Pro Bowl a couple of times, and I got along with him just fine," said Reid with a twinkle in his eye.
It was clear that the Eagles were considering getting involved in the Owens derby, but the receiver didn't seem like a good fit for them. Philly hasn't had a me-first player, at least an outspoken one, for some time, and that's not the kind of guy Reid likes to have around.
Owens' selfish displays since my talk with Reid -- the sideline blowup at offensive coordinator Greg Knapp during a game in Minnesota, the increase in dropped balls and alligator-arm reception "attempts" -- made him slide even further downhill in my eyes. If I were an NFL general manager or coach, I wouldn't have touched the guy with a 10-foot pole.
But Owens is indeed heading to Philadelphia, now that the Ravens have agreed to void their trade with the 49ers for the receiver, and a settlement has been negotiated between the NFL's management council and the players' union.
Though I hate the way it went down -- Baltimore was absolutely screwed for listening to the NFL management council tell it that San Francisco had a valid contract with Owens and was able to trade him anywhere it wished, meaning the Ravens lost out on every talented receiver in this year's free-agent market -- Owens probably has gone to the team that, with the possible exception of Dallas, could best handle him. Reid, a mild-mannered, no-crisis guy, is the perfect coach to turn a cancerous player into a team player.
Owens has been so remarkably and consistently selfish over the years that only a few coaches would have the gumption to attempt to make him into a team guy. Reid is no doubt hoping that Owens walking into his locker room would be like some selfish stats guy walking into the Yankees clubhouse. Just as Joe Torre figures the leaders in his locker room -- Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams -- would make the me-first guy turn straight up and fly right, Reid figures Owens won't act up with Donovan McNabb and the other Eagles leaders around.
I'm not sure that's a great premise. Philly's best leader last season was Troy Vincent, and he left for Buffalo on Monday as a free agent. Defensive end Hugh Douglas departed for Jacksonville last year. Duce Staley's a Steeler now. Those three were all very strong locker-room presences. The Eagles still have Hollis Thomas, Corey Simon, Jon Runyan, Brian Dawkins and, of course, McNabb, but none is a take-charge leader like those predecessors. Maybe one will emerge from that group, but there isn't one there now.
I understand just what Reid is doing in taking Owens on. The coach realizes his offensive weapons scare no one, and he knows McNabb can't win a lot of games by himself, not with a less-than-mediocre 57 percent career completion percentage. Owens, if he can be the guy who gets to those McNabb jump balls downfield and can out-physical corners who are 30 pounds lighter, could be a great solution. Reid knows he'll have to keep a close watch on Owens, and he's smart enough to not let him became an Allen Iverson. I'm sure of that.
So Reid is casting his lot with the bad-boy receiver of his era, and there's risk in doing that. No matter what he says about Owens in the next day or two -- and I'm sure it will be all sweetness and light -- he knows he's taking on a huge mental project. Dennis Erickson was thrilled to be inheiriting such a great receiving weapon when he took over the 49ers job last year. Ask Erickson now about Owens, and I'm sure you'll hear something like: "Grrrrrrr."
How Reid handles Owens will go a long way toward determining whether the Eagles will make it to their fourth straight NFC Championship Game this year. Or further.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.