Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb has encouraged the team's coaching staff to consider signing free-agent wide receiver Terrell Owens, despite the acrimony that marked their time as Philadelphia Eagles teammates, according to multiple sources.
Coach Mike Shanahan said the Redskins are not actively pursuing Owens. A team source said the Redskins have made upgrading their wide receiver position a high priority but prefer to avoid bringing Owens into their locker room if another solution can be found.
On Tuesday, McNabb denied approaching the Redskins about his former teammate, but multiple sources confirmed the subject has been discussed.
"I never said that to anyone about T.O. It's just not true," McNabb said in a phone conversation with ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "I'm in a new place, trying to get comfortable, not start anything or push for anything. I am very happy with the receivers I have."
A source close to McNabb said the quarterback and Owens recently talked about the possibility of reuniting while shooting an episode for the television show "Pros vs. Joes" in Los Angeles. The episode, schedule to air in July, features McNabb and Owens playing on the same basketball team.
Whatever potential there is for a McNabb-Owens reunion would serve to further heighten interest this year in the two regular-season games between the NFC East rival Redskins and Eagles. At their pinnacle, McNabb and Owens were Super Bowl teammates; in the end, Owens hinted vaguely that McNabb suffered a failure of nerve that cost Philadelphia a Super Bowl ring and suggested the quarterback contributed to the Eagles releasing him.
Owens spent the 2009 season with the Buffalo Bills, the fourth team of his NFL career, finishing with the worst stats of his career as a starter.
Although Owens is widely viewed as a player in decline, Shanahan's first minicamp with the Redskins provided some insight into the Redskins' concerns at that position. Veterans Jerry Porter and Marques Hagans participated, and the team on Monday signed Hagans and Roydell Williams, who hasn't played since 2007 with the Tennessee Titans.
The Redskins are a four-win team with limited resources to acquire talent in this week's NFL draft. Trading a second-round pick to the NFC East rival Eagles for McNabb left the Redskins with an NFL-low four picks.
The Redskins have the No. 4 overall pick on Thursday, and Shanahan and Redskins general manager Bruce Allen will have to get creative to improve their roster. There is potential for the team to trade the fourth pick, defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and former starting quarterback Jason Campbell, which could open the door for them to sign Owens.
While with the Denver Broncos, Shanahan was among the few coaches interested in signing Owens after the Eagles released the receiver. The two met and Shanahan was willing to offer him a contract.
But Shanahan was wary of Owens' problems with his two previous teams and wanted to structure the deal with limited guaranteed money so that the team could financially control his behavior if necessary. Shanahan considered it an enormous mistake when the Dallas Cowboys provided Owens with a contract that included significant upfront guaranteed money.
Owens has a history of toxic relationships with all of his former quarterbacks, and McNabb was a central figure in one of them, according to Owens' 2006 autobiography, "TO."
With the Eagles cruising along with a 10-1 record in 2004, Owens became increasingly unhappy because McNabb refused to constantly feed him the ball, or simply misjudged where to throw the football -- depending on one's interpretation of events.
On Nov. 28, 2004, at Giants Stadium, Owens finally said something to McNabb in the huddle after a play that was designed to go to Owens but resulted in a short incomplete pass to a running back, according to Owens' book.
Owens wrote that he said, "I was open. Dude, you missed me."
McNabb's reply, according to Owens, was "shut the [bleep] up."
Owens wrote that he was deeply offended by what McNabb said. "I felt like he had no right to talk to me that way," Owens wrote. "After what happened on the play and in the huddle, I began to think that maybe he didn't want a co-host and maybe he didn't like me getting more attention."
From that point on, McNabb and Owens barely spoke to each other -- for the remainder of the 2004 season, throughout the playoffs while Owens was injured and in rehab for a broken leg, and in Jacksonville, Fla., for Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots.
In spring 2005, Owens refused to go to camp, demanding the Eagles redo his seven-year contract. He lashed out at McNabb, primarily because the leader of the team refused to come to his aid for more cash. Owens also told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli, "I wasn't the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl."
After a summer of dysfunction, the 2005 season devolved into a divided locker room that culminated in a fight between Owens and retired defensive end Hugh Douglas, whom coach Andy Reid had just named "team ambassador."
After the fight, on Nov. 7, Reid sent Owens a letter outlining six charges against the receiver and sent Owens home for the remainder of the season. Owens filed a grievance with the players' union and the hearing was scheduled for Nov. 18 at the Marriott.
"[Andy Reid] ended the conversation by telling me to stay by the phone and he would call me back. He called back about an hour later. I don't know who he spoke to, but somebody killed it."
Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was among those players who did not want to see Owens go. Owens glances over this fact in the book, but anybody who was around the team then knows that there was deep resentment -- some of it not too hidden -- toward McNabb about the way he was treating Owens.
On that team, McNabb was viewed as an extension of Reid, in terms of management, and Trotter and many others had seen the callousness of the front office when it came to contract renegotiations.
During the Super Bowl in Detroit, McNabb claimed in an interview with ESPN's Michael Smith that what Owens did to him amounted to "black-on-black" crime.
But McNabb said something else to Smith that may be far more telling about the dynamics within the Eagles' locker room back then.
"It put something in the back of my mind that you really learn a lot about people when things aren't going good," McNabb told Smith. "Comments, answers to questions, reactions -- you learn about people. I'm not here to call players out. They know who they are. That nobody really came to my defense, that showed me something."
Ed Werder is an ESPN NFL reporter. ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio and ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen contributed to this report.