TERRELL OWENS was the first to admit last Saturday that his sudden free agency had led him to a most unlikely destination. Buffalo, after all, is the city that former Bills running back Willis McGahee ripped for having no nightlife beyond what went down at T.G.I. Friday's. "This may not be the most ideal place for a lot of people," Owens said at a press conference celebrating the one-year, $6.5 million deal he signed with the Bills two days after he was abruptly cut by the Cowboys. "[But] I beat to my own beat sometimes, my own thinking, my own intuition. For me, this is an opportunity."
Things are about to get interesting in Buffalo, a town unaccustomed to the media mania that T.O. tends to attract. (How many other Bills have had their own reality shows? Owens, naturally, has The Terrell Owens Project premiering on VH1 this summer.) No NFL player in recent years has been more magnetic and polarizing than Owens. Despite surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in nine of the past 11 seasons and ranking second in league history with 139 TD catches, he has been traded or released by San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas after battles with his quarterbacks and coaches.
More than half the league's 32 teams declared they had no interest in Owens after he was cut by the Cowboys, and his Buffalo deal reflects the conflicting reactions T.O. inspires in G.M.'s and coaches. He's vastly talented, which is why his salary will place him among the best-paid receivers in 2009. He tends to wear out his welcome quickly, which is why the Bills committed to only one year. "He's still a productive player, but he's no longer dominant," says an NFL scout. "When you have a descending player who carries baggage, he's not worth it."
So why would Bills coach Dick Jauron back the signing of Owens, who couldn't get along with Pro Bowl QBs in each of his previous three stops? (In Buffalo he will work with Trent Edwards, a third-year pro who has as many career interceptions, 18, as touchdown passes.) Desperation, that's why. Buffalo has gone nine consecutive years without making the playoffs and 38 straight games without a 300-yard passer. Its offense has ranked in the bottom eight in total yards in each of the last six seasons, and only one Bill had more than two touchdown catches last year—wide receiver Lee Evans, who had three.
"We're excited to have one of the premier playmakers in a playmakers' league," chief operating officer Russ Brandon said. Making plays has never been a problem for Owens, despite his league-high 37 dropped passes in the last three seasons. Staying well-behaved has been. If T.O. doesn't get enough catches in Buffalo, the lights on his reality-show cameras aren't the only things that will run hot.