One way or another, Terrell Owens' tumultuous two-year tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles is almost certain to end Tuesday, likely with the team releasing the exiled wide receiver who played in only seven games in 2005.
The seven-year contract that Owens signed with the Eagles in 2004 stipulates that the team is to pay him a $5 million bonus if he is on the roster for the fifth day of the "league year." Because of the delays necessary to negotiate an extension to the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, the league year began Saturday instead of March 3 as originally scheduled, and that makes Wednesday the due date for the bonus.
If Owens is still on the roster on Wednesday morning, the Eagles are on the hook for the roster bonus. To avoid paying the $5 million, they must release him by the end of league business hours Tuesday -- or no later than 4 p.m. ET Tuesday -- so that he is on the official transaction document disseminated to all 32 franchises.
So barring some last-minute twist, Owens, who is also due a second bonus of $2.5 million later this month, will be released before the afternoon deadline. The end of the Philly-Owens relationship will immediately make him a free agent, and it will save the Eagles $4.54 million in salary cap charges in the coming season.
There is a remote possibility, of course, that Owens could be traded. But most franchises interested in the big-play wideout have been reluctant to invest even a low-round draft choice in a player who figures to be available on the open market. Also, any team dealing for Owens would inherit his current contract, and clubs believe it is a prohibitive deal -- there are five seasons remaining on the contract, which was originally worth $49 million -- that needs to be reworked.
Owens visited with Denver officials in late January, and the Broncos seem intrigued by him, but owner Pat Bowlen said this week the perceived ardor has been "overblown." It is not believed that Owens made any other visits. He and agent Drew Rosenhaus were granted permission in January to seek potential trade partners.
It does not appear likely, league officials acknowledged last week, that Owens or Rosenhaus have any avenues of recourse remaining for blocking the wide receiver's release. Nor does it appear any such move would be in Owens' best interests, since gaining his freedom will enable him to quickly begin shopping for a new home.
His off-field actions from 2005 aside, Owens is still regarded as a premier playmaker, one who could draw interest from a core group of four or five teams when he is released. With what transpired last season, Owens cannot return to the Eagles.
A 10-year veteran, Owens was suspended twice last season, the first time during summer training camp for a week, then at midseason. He appeared in a career-low seven games and caught 47 passes for 763 yards and six touchdowns.
In November, arbitrator Richard Bloch upheld the Eagles' right to suspend Owens four games for conduct detrimental to the team, and to place him on the inactive list every week after that for the balance of the season. The in-season suspension cost Owens $764,705 of his scheduled $3.25 million base salary for 2005.
The Eagles are also trying to recover $1.725 million, a prorated share of the $8.5 million signing bonus Owens received in '04. The NFL Players' Association has filed a grievance on his behalf in that case. It is not known when that grievance will be heard.
In 10 seasons, Owens, who began his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers as a third-round pick in the 1996 draft, has 716 receptions for 10,535 yards and 101 touchdowns. He has appeared in 142 games, 128 of them as a starter, and has been chosen for the Pro Bowl five times.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.