We all know the signs of a formerly elite level player who, even though he may be past the “Get On My Back And I’ll Carry You To The Promised Land” years can still play at a high level and help a team win. His speed seems a little less unbelievable, his game a little less sharp, perhaps his mind a little less interested in a losing situation. Often, this guy finds new life and a strong finish in a more winning-friendly environment where he can be a solid piece of the puzzle rather than the franchise savior. Marcus Allen went to Kansas City and proved to Al Davis that he was still nails, a feat LaDanian Tomlinson will try (and fail) to repeat in New York in 2010. Corey Dillon in New England is a good example Neil Smith in Denver. Kurt Warner did it three times and went to a couple of Super Bowls. I’ve got a billion baseball examples, Paul Molitor sticking out like a sore thumb. His grand finale lasted a decade and got him to Cooperstown.
Aging but still undeniably productive, why then does Terrell Owens find himself an unmarketable free agent just weeks away from NFL training camp? In a word: Diva. That is what every single evaluator (relevant or otherwise) of football talent sees when he looks at Owens. After more than a decade of his thoroughly-publicized act, it has become impossible for NFL folks to see Terrell Owens, outstanding professional wide receiver, because his alter-ego, T.O., is always Vaudeville-ing around like a buffoon and getting in the way, diverting attention from all the rampant productivity.
I can only assume, therefore, that they believe as I do and as Mike Singletary so succinctly put it when calmly discussing an unfortunate Vernon Davis incident. You just can’t win with guys who aren’t wholly committed to the team-first concept. Sure, you can get to a title game and a Super Bowl. But if your go-to guy is a disruption, you are in deep trouble when you get there, because most likely the team you play will have all oars on their spaceship paddling in unison. Or something like that.
Look back at the last 30 years. See any Super Bowl Champions whose alpha dog was a certifiable T.O.-style diva? I don’t. Remember, now, that having off the field issues is not the same thing. Some would no doubt argue that The Playmaker qualifies. Michael Irvin was an occasional distraction, but you would never have caught him dead publicly criticizing his pro bowl quarterback or openly shouting down his coaching staff on the sideline or intentionally making a spectacle of himself by doing sit-ups amidst a media throng in the driveway of his home. It’s the little things, you see. And it’s important to note that T.O. is squeaky-clean off the field, which only amplifies the point. Productive. No off-the-field trouble. If you have those two traits but no contract, you’re either overvaluing yourself financially or…you are considered locker room cancer.
Probably both are present here, along with teams wanting to get a longer look at younger talent on hand before committing the 2010 season to everything that goes along with T.O. But it’s not like we’re in March, here. T.O.’s numbers from last year on a brutal Buffalo offense warrant some attention from teams needing quality receiving help, and there are a lot of those teams. You mean to tell me the Chargers couldn’t use T.O. on the field with the Vincent Jackson issue looming, or that the Browns don’t need a reliable veteran to take the pressure off youngsters Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie? Or that the Patriots wouldn’t have signed him three different times in the last decade if he weren’t a problem child?
T.O. made his own bed, with a little help from a media monster he doesn’t understand half as well as he thinks he does and which offers him both edges of the sword at all times. And he’s going to get his just desserts as a result, almost certainly retiring without a Super Bowl ring and a Hall of Fame bubble case who on the numbers
should be a first-ballot entry. Pay attention, young bucks (I’m looking at you, CJ2K and DeSean). To paraphrase the Big Lebowski: “The Divas Always LOSE!!!!”