Donovan McNabb(notes) threw 31 touchdowns and was in a Super Bowl after the 2004 season. By 2007 he was dealing with rumors Philadelphia would trade him. Tony Romo(notes) became a crossover superstar and a two-time Pro Bowler in Dallas. He now opens the season with questions about whether he's indeed an elite quarterback.
Terrell Owens(notes) always leaves a mess; the exit is ugly, contentious and controversial. Entire franchises breathe easier when the enigma departs. He's known as a quarterback killer, but in fairness, not until he's first a quarterback maker.
All three of his primary signal callers have enjoyed their greatest success both individually and in the win column when they've been able to throw passes into his oversized hands. When he left, two of them – and their teams – have taken a step back. Time will tell on Romo and the Cowboys.
"I think that's what's always missing; no one ever talks about that," Owens said on opening day of the Buffalo Bills training camp. "I think sometimes those things tend to get overshadowed because a lot of criticism and a lot of things they want to talk about other than what I bring to the table."
Owens was talking on a sunny, optimistic Saturday morning with his new team. He was smiling, sweating, in shape as always and unfailingly polite in speaking about the potential of the season.
Fans in the distance were screaming his name. He'd just spent 30 minutes signing autographs for anyone who'd descended on little St. John Fisher College outside Rochester to watch the T.O. Show in person, but they wanted more.
This was the first day for Owens and that's always a heck of a lot better than the last one. The questions for the Bills are how long can it last and while it does, can Owens do for third-year signal caller Trent Edwards(notes) what he did for Garcia, McNabb and Romo? You can't tear a QB down until he's first been built up.
"That's one thing they can never take away; the things I do on the football field," said Owens, released by the Cowboys in March.
It took just the first drill of the first session of the first day of practice to see Owens was like nothing else on the Bills roster. Even at age 35 he's bigger, faster and has better hands than any other wideout. He ran his routes at full speed. He may have smiled at fans waving boxes of TO's cereal between reps, but his intensity was obvious.
"We don't have anyone else who's caught 951 balls in the league," coach Dick Jauron said.
There's a reason this works … until it doesn't.
"It just happens to be that way sometimes," Owens said of his messy divorces.
Here in the honeymoon stage, TO is the x-factor that makes the Bills an x-factor in the AFC East. This will be his 14th season, yet teammates were marveling at his physical conditioning. If he hasn't lost too much, he'll be part of a suddenly balanced offense that couples with an improving defense to make for an intriguing club.
"He creates issues for defenses because he is a big, strong, productive receiver," Jauron said. "So you don't go into a game just saying, 'We'll just play our base defense and take whatever happens.' That's not how you play against receivers like that. It gives us more opportunities."
Edwards was so juiced he was talking about playing into February, a stretch for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 1999. You can forgive his excitement; he knows what Owens has meant for other quarterbacks, at least for a season or three.
"He can get open and make passes by the quarterback a little bit easier," Edwards said. "When he's running well and coming out of breaks well, he's tough to cover and that makes my job a lot easier."
Edwards threw just 11 touchdown passes a season ago, a number that's more jarring when compared to his 10 picks. A team that started white hot (5-1) faded fast to finish 7-9. No one doubts the physical tools of the 6-foot-4, 231 pounder out of Stanford. Consistency is a huge issue though.
Getting someone who makes things easier is worth the risk of whatever potential personality clashes may come.
"Tremendous upside," Owens said of Edwards. "The guy has No. 1, the size, the arm strength. And with any quarterback, the success of a quarterback resides on the guys up front and the things the guys outside can provide."
It goes without saying Owens believes he can "provide" whatever Edwards needs to be successful. If so, "then add [him] to the list."
Jauron is a bland, old-school coach for a team in a conservative, blue-collar area of the country. This isn't Dallas, which is used to stars. This is Western New York, so Jauron tried to shrug off all the TO hoopla. He said he hasn't watched the reality show, but only because he doesn't watch any reality shows. He doesn't Twitter either.
"I'm almost only focused on the football side of him," Jauron said. "As long as he performs we're going to be all right."
Well, ah, of course, Coach. That was the case at his last three stops, too. But sure, as long as TO is in the business of making teammates better, this is going to be great. The Bills have a quarterback primed for his prime and now have a receiver with a track record to get him there.
Desperate after a decade of futility, the Bills will deal with later, later.