Bills’ gamble with Owens could work

Terrell Owens’ short stay on the unemployment line may seem absurd to those who see him as the consummate team destroyer. But give the Buffalo Bills credit for one thing in signing Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million deal on Saturday evening.

If this deal goes bad, the Bills can get out of it quickly. Moreover, Owens is always best in short doses.

In short, what the Bills did in nabbing Owens was twofold. First, he immediately helps an offense that went south in the second half of last season after a promising start. Second, if you take a quick glance at Owens’ career path, this scenario provides a way in which Owens can be successful.

Yes, Owens has a history of problems with his quarterbacks, be it Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. That’s troublesome considering the Bills are trying to build around youngster Trent Edwards.

But the problems with Owens don’t usually happen right away. Certainly not for the first year. Just understand that even if Owens has success, it won’t last long.

In short, Owens has been at his best in his career when he has had something to prove – in 2000 when Owens was replacing Jerry Rice as the top target with the San Francisco 49ers, and in 2001 when Rice was gone and playing across the bay in Oakland.

In 2004 with Philadelphia (after Owens’ relationship with the 49ers hit meltdown), Owens was again at his best in order to prove himself in a new place. He had one of his better years and helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl. By the next season, he and McNabb couldn’t play nice anymore.

In 2006 with the Dallas Cowboys, he was good again and was even better in 2007 when he was playing under a new coach (Wade Phillips) and wanted to prove that former coach Bill Parcells was a tyrant.

By 2008, however, it was back to meltdown as his relationship with teammates deteriorated to nothing and forced Dallas owner Jerry Jones to cut him Thursday.

So in five “prove-it” seasons: 433 catches, 6,598 yards, 71 touchdowns. The averages during those seasons: 86.6 catches, 1,319.6 yards, 14.2 touchdowns.

In the other eight seasons: 518 catches, 7,524 yards, 68 touchdowns. The averages: 64.8 catches, 940.5 yards, 8.5 touchdowns.

Ultimately, Owens is a supreme talent that some team will take a chance on. While plenty of people doubted agent Drew Rosenhaus’ statement Friday that he’d have Owens with a new team by the end of next week, Rosenhaus doesn’t usually extend himself that far out on a limb.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter if Rosenhaus was bluffing because realistically, he has a client who can help some team. Though, again, under the right conditions.

Now that Owens is 35 years old, finished second in the NFL in drops last season with 33 and has talked his way off his third team, the time is right for him to take a deal more suited to the liking of the club. That’s the case in this contract, which is not guaranteed and allows Buffalo to get out at any time.

Frankly, if Owens produces the way he has in other “prove-it” seasons, he’s worth almost whatever you pay him, be it $8 million, $10 million, even as much as $12 million.

Yes, Owens is worth that kind of deal. But remember, it’s only going to be a one-year deal. At this point, Owens is a complete mercenary.

In that role, Owens is fine. Come in, do his thing, get out. If Owens has to stay around some place for several years, it becomes a different story. That’s because Owens seemingly has no concept of trust.

His childhood was an emotional bear trap. He wrote in his 2004 book “Catch This!” that when he was 11 years old and living in his grandmother’s house, he developed a crush on the girl who lived across the street. The girl’s dad told Owens to stay away because the girl was Owens’ half-sister. Not exactly an ideal father and son reunion.

However, Owens has had a pretty successful life, even with the professional hiccups. But his inability to trust people has skewed him so much that he eventually undermines himself. It happened in San Francisco, it happened in Philadelphia and most recently in Dallas.

Likewise, Owens has gone through an array of advisors and publicists, rarely maintaining much of a relationship with any of them.

Said one former associate: “It’s really sad because Terrell is a good person in so many ways. But if he suspects anything is even about to go wrong, you lose. It’s like he’s expecting the worst in people and it happens over and over again.”

For the Bills, the key is not to repeat the process.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Mar 7, 2009