Owens Still a 49er After Mistake

Times Staff Writer

Where’s a Sharpie when you need one?

Terrell Owens, the San Francisco 49er receiver who once produced a pen from his sock and autographed a football immediately after scoring a touchdown, is now haunted by something he didn’t sign -- the necessary paperwork to become a free agent.

Owens needed to file paperwork with the NFL by Feb. 21 to void the final two seasons of his current deal but missed the deadline, meaning he remains under contract with the 49ers, pending a grievance hearing.

“They didn’t execute their option to void the contract in a timely fashion as required,” league spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed.

Evidently, there was confusion as to the date of the deadline, which was moved back two weeks in Owens’ contract after a change to the collective-bargaining agreement in 2001.

The league recently sent a letter to the players’ union establishing the date for voiding contracts at Feb. 22 for certain players, and Owens was on that list. There is a question as to whether Owens’ agent, David Joseph, was apprised of the change by the league or players’ union -- or if Joseph alone is responsible for knowing the details of his player’s contract.


“I don’t know if there’s anything to appeal,” Aiello said. “It’s a very clear-cut rule. Everything is documented in writing.”

If the ruling of the NFL management council is upheld, the 49ers will have the rights to Owens for two more seasons and can either keep or trade him. If they decide to get rid of him, as most observers say they will, the 49ers can ensure he won’t wind up with, say, a division rival such as St. Louis.

A similar situation has arisen in Cleveland, where Brown receiver Dennis Northcutt also failed to file in time to become an unrestricted free agent. He signed a seven-year contract in 2000 and was required to notify the team by Feb. 19 whether he planned to void the final three years of his deal. The Browns said Northcutt and his agent, Jerome Stanley, failed to inform the club by certified mail.

Northcutt led the Browns with 62 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns last season.

It is widely believed the 49ers have no interest in keeping Owens, despite his obvious value as one of the game’s best receivers. The four-time Pro Bowl player has made plenty of waves in his eight seasons, and his ongoing feud with Steve Mariucci was one of the things that contributed to that coach’s ouster.

A third-round pick of the 49ers in 1996, Owens is one of the game’s premier playmakers. He finished last season with 80 catches, his fewest since 1999, but missed the season finale -- and his fourth Pro Bowl game -- because of a broken collarbone.

Perhaps more memorable than his best catches are his bizarre touchdown celebrations, among them a midfield dance on the Texas Stadium star, a pompom-shaking shimmy in San Francisco and the football-signing episode in Seattle.