For years now, as Terrell Owens has simultaneously shone at wide receiver and feuded with 49ers management, teams around the NFL have no doubt been counting the days until he became a free agent. If only Owens's agent, David Joseph, had anticipated the moment so eagerly.
Last Thursday, Owens and Joseph learned they had missed the NFL's Feb. 21 deadline to get out of his contract with the 49ers, which has three years and $17 million remaining. Instead of being able to test the market—where he might have gotten a multi-year contract in the $35 million range like the one receiver Laveranues Coles got from the Redskins last year—Owen is locked in through '06. The gaffe left Joseph and his client of eight years on the defensive. Both said they did not receive notification from the NFL informing them that the deadline specified in Owens's contract had been moved up because of a technicality. Owens wasn't the only player to blow a deadline. The agent for Browns receiver Dennis Northcutt, Jerome Stanley, failed to send the team a letter by Feb. 19 that would have voided Northcutt's contract. Now Northcutt is on the hook with Cleveland for three more seasons at $700,000 a year. He could have commanded as much $3 million as a free agent.
If it makes the two pass catchers feel any better, they still have jobs—unlike former NBA guard Anthony Carter. Last June, Carter's agent, Bill Duffy, failed to file the paperwork to exercise Carter's $4.1 million option year with the Heat, thus making Carter a free agent. Carter then had to settle for a two-year, $1.5 million deal with San Antonio. After he injured his left knee in October, the Spurs gave him an injury settlement and let him go. Duffy has vowed to make up the lost millions to Carter.
While Northcutt is trying to work out a deal with the Browns, Owens and Joseph maintain they acted properly and could file a grievance through the players' association. If Owens does stay with San Francisco, he's likely to be traded. "We did what we were supposed to do," Owens told Sporting News Radio. "The truth will come out.... Thinking that I was just sitting on my butt and David's been sitting on his butt and just forgot and left paperwork on his desk, that's just utterly ridiculous."