Bengals must hope Owens is grateful for one last chance

Franchise hopes that Terrell Owens will change his ways with his locker room behaviour, while doing enough on the field to help the team win.

When the NFL training camps were opening around the country this week, one player was still looking for a team. This player is older, but not ancient. He is still productive, but not a superstar anymore. He puts fans in the seats and usually helps his team win. So why did it take until yesterday for a team, the Cincinnati Bengals, to sign him up?

Because the player in question is Terrell Owens, the wide receiver. Owens has had a Hall of Fame-worthy career. He has played 13 seasons, caught 1,006 passes and scored 144 touchdowns. But during the off-season there have been only two teams, the Bengals and the New York Jets, remotely interested in signing Owens. I checked out the local sports media in both Cincinnati and New York and the opinion was the same.

To paraphrase, they thought that adding Owens would be a disaster. Both the Bengals and Jets had quality teams and the local columnists believe that the addition of Owens would be an unwanted distraction. History bears this point out. Owens quietly came into the NFL from the tiny University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and slowly became first a starter then a star with the San Francisco 49ers. In 2000 he caught 97 passes and became a household name. He was an emotional player that fans fell in love with. The love affair did not last. After being critical of Jeff Garcia, the 49ers quarterback, Owens left San Francisco to join the Philadelphia Eagles.

With the Eagles, Owens became more demonstrative and dramatic both on and off the field. He still dominated as a player, but he seemed just as determined to create new end zone celebrations and get on television with his mouth rather than his hands. After another public falling out with Donovan McNabb, the Eagles quarterback, Owens moved on to the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas it was more of the same, good play on the field mixed with drama in the locker room. As his production began to dip, Dallas let him go and Owens had an unspectacular season with the Buffalo Bills in 2009.

In this new NFL, teams are avoiding players with baggage. This usually means incidents with the law and arrests. You can look at what happened to Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. The quarterbacks were both suspended by the league for off-the-field incidents with the law. Now while Owens has never been in trouble with the law, nor suspended by the league, his infraction is that he has had more negative press swirling around him than he has had winning seasons. He has a reputation of being critical of his teammates in public, which is one of the worst reputations you can have.

The NFL is not truly opposed to players with arrests or players with bad reputations, there are many of them having successful careers in the league today. What the team owners and general managers have is a sliding scale that looks at the production of a player on the field in comparison to the baggage and bad press a player has off the field. Once the baggage scale is weighed down, that is usually when your career is over.

With a player like Owens, the Bengals are hoping that he will be grateful for one more chance in the league. They are hoping that Owens will change his ways with his locker room behaviour, while doing enough on the field to help the team win. The move makes some sense for the Bengals, where Owens will be sharing the ball and the attention with Chad Ochocinco, the equally flamboyant receiver, as the big play target of Carson Palmer, the Bengals quarterback.

The Bengals' passing offence was ranked 26th (out of 32) last season and Marvin Lewis, their head coach, said: "Terrell is a proven, productive player who can come in and help us. It's a big move for us, one that we really think is going to help us." There is no doubt that Owens can still play the game, but to expect him change his ways after 14 years is pretty naive.