Is a comeback for WR Terrell Owens effectively in the works?
ESPN insider Adam Schefter reported that Owens’ agent, Jordan Woy, said they have talked to “a bunch of teams” regarding a potential return for the NFL’s second all-time leading receiver. While it comes off as a little farfetched, considering he hasn’t played in two seasons due to age and knee issues, it is a reality.
Woy told Schefter in early August, via ESPN.com:
I know if he goes out there and gets a shot, he’ll make a team. We’ve talked to a lot of teams that have said he’s a great talent, we’re set as of right now, but if we have injuries, we may reach back out.
Wide receivers are dropping like flies, which could present Owens with his window, per RotoWorld:
Percy Harvin (hip), Jeremy Maclin (knee), Danario Alexander (knee), Arrellious Benn (knee), Stevie Johnson (hamstring), Santonio Holmes (foot), A.J. Green (knee), Earl Bennett (head), Terrance Williams (head), Jordy Nelson (knee), Justin Blackmon (groin), Randall Cobb (shoulder) and Josh Cribbs (knee).
Now, the two evident dots connecting the San Francisco 49ers to Owens are his history with the team—having a chance to go back to where it all started—and the team’s current injury woes at the position.
As originally reported by Mike Garafolo of USA Today, wide receiver Michael Crabtree will miss extensive time in 2013 with a full Achilles tear that was sustained in OTAs. The team’s No. 1 option in the passing game is currently rehabbing but will be a non-factor for the majority of the season, which puts the reigning NFC champions between a rock and a hard place.
Is the onus on San Francisco to give T.O. a workout and see if he has one more run left in him?
The short answer is “no,” and here is why…
Reason No. 1: 49ers Already Addressed the WR Position
On August 2, the 49ers officially announced the signings of wideouts Lavelle Hawkins and Austin Collie, via the team’s website. In what were fairly low-profile additions, the ex-Titan and ex-Colt were the benefactors of a three-man workout that also included WR Laurent Robinson.
After fully assessing the state of the receiving corps, this was the solution to the loss of Crabtree and oft-injured players in camp. San Fran did not even evaluate 32-year-old journeyman Brandon Lloyd, who had close to 1,000 yards receiving in New England’s system just last year.
By all intents and purposes, the 49ers already have their veteran wide receiver for the season in 11-year pro Anquan Boldin. Any intangibles a vet like Owens would be able to offer lose value in the evaluation process because the ‘Niners have Boldin fulfilling that role.
Also, after his sizzling playoff performance, few are questioning whether or not Boldin has anything left in the tank.
Outside of the team’s $6 million man, the 49ers are counting on several young players on the roster to grow into themselves. Of those potentials, Ricardo Lockette, Quinton Patton, A.J. Jenkins and Kyle Williams are all viable candidates to be featured weapons in San Francisco’s aerial attack this season.
Not to mention, San Francisco will also get Mario Manningham back early on, while Crabtree should return by Thanksgiving or early December. Frankly, it’s a full boat, and there is no place for Owens—not if the 49ers are seriously looking to win games in 2013.
Reason No. 2: It’s Too Little, Too Late
For a free-agent kicker like Phil Dawson, being 39 years old is not that big a deal. But for Owens, a career route-runner and pass-catcher who relies on the total functionality of his body, it is a huge question mark.
49ers coordinator Vic Fangio stated just the other day that players get to a point in their career where the physical abilities begin to diminish, and he was referring to CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who is eight years younger than Owens.
Moreover, the last time No. 81 caught a regular season football, he was 37 years old and that was in 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals. He will be 40 in December. Only one player in NFL history had 600-plus yards after turning 39 years old, and that was none other than the “GOAT,” Jerry Rice.
Continued production—much less a comeback—this late in the game at the wide receiver position just does not happen.
Though Woy attests that his client is in supreme physical shape—which has always been the case with Owens—that is not always the telltale sign that a player can still play at a high level. Honestly, the worry is not that his abs are gone, the worry is that his hands are gone.
In 2012, T.O. flashed a 4.45 40-time for the Seahawks, which piqued the staff’s interest enough to bring him into camp to compete. However, after a two-game preseason outing that was riddled with dropped balls, Pete Carroll and Co. released the future first-ballot Hall of Famer in the initial round of cuts, via Mike Sando of ESPN.
What some fail to realize, is that at that age, even though you look good running around in basketball shorts, the body just does not respond the way it used to. It is hard to see on TV, but numbers never lie. In his first preseason game last August versus Denver, Owens was 0-for-5 on targets from quarterback Matt Flynn, who finished 6-of-8 to all other receivers, via NFL.com.
That plagued performance by Owens involved a potential 46-yard score that bounced right off his hands, more or less symbolizing the close of a prolific career. The magic was just gone. Onlookers knew that was not the T.O. that amassed nine 1,000-yard seasons, 153 touchdowns and six trips to Hawaii.
The decline in this facet of his game did not abruptly start in 2012, either. Pinpointing the beginning of the end for Owens, one only has to look as far back as his third and final year with Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys in 2008.
According to Scott Kacsmar of Cold Hard Football Facts, Owens only caught 50.5 percent of targets from 2008-2010, which is a nine percent drop from the apex of his career (59.5 from 1996-2007). To shed some light on how low a number that is, only eight of 86 qualified receivers in the NFL last year had a lower catch rate than old man Owens, via Football Outsiders.
In confluence with the drops, Owens’ run after catch percentage also diminished, sinking from 37.2 percent to 28.1 percent in that time span.
Reason No. 3: It’s Disruptive
Bottom line, Owens is such a reach, that to bring him in would demonstrate a supreme lack of faith in the receiving corps they have now. Way more than working out Austin Collie, 27, Lavelle Hawkins, 27, and Laurent Robinson, 28, had. It is a matter of the legitimacy of the competition, as well as the character of the players representing the SF shield in camp.
Diminished talent and a convoluted past makes it extremely difficult to see the upside in a move like this.
If Owens were to sign, that is how the players would see it. And that is exactly how the teams around the league would see it, too. Upcoming opponents like Green Bay and Seattle, which really want to take a bite out of the 49ers, would smell blood in the water.
Ultimately, it sends a message the 49ers really don’t want to be sending.
Moreover, adding T.O. to this receiving corps—even for training camp—would be unbelievably counterproductive. By having Owens in training camp, the 49ers would be throwing away repetitions, essentially. He has no future in this league; all the while San Fran has one of the youngest, most gifted groups that could be on the verge of breaking through.
All this unit needs is more time and reps.
At the moment, these receivers are only getting roughly 6-8 targets a day, if they’re lucky. Why lessen that…for Owens?
The 49ers are not going to mothball their long-term investments at wideout so Owens can have one more shot. Furthermore, with 2012 first-round selection A.J. Jenkins still labeled an unknown, signing Owens out of the blue would invite a media circus of Tebow-like proportions.
San Francisco would be wise to say, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Reason No. 4: They Passed Last Year
In 2012, the ‘Niners were looking for a low-risk vet willing to take the league minimum in exchange for a chance to win a Super Bowl. Ideally, that player would be highly decorated yet willing to take on the role of a mentor. In that particular offseason, the 49ers had the choice of Randy Moss or Terrell Owens.
Not even bringing T.O. in for a workout, San Francisco courted Moss and signed him the day of his visit.
This was the opportune moment for Owens, but the new regime revealed its hand, and they were not interested. It is very likely that general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh did not feel the risk was worth the reward. Envisioning T.O. as a fit for this locker room is also very unnatural.
Moss was really able to get in line, which was rarely a problem when the team he was on won games.
Owens, on the other hand, spent the majority of his career on contenders but always managed to be loud. He also had a history of challenging and initiating conflict with his quarterbacks, which might have been the deal breaker for Harbaugh. Outside of No. 81’s insane career production—15,934 receiving yards and 153 touchdowns—there is nothing that makes Owens a “Harbaugh guy.”