Terrell Owens has made many a pit stop during his long, illustrious and controversial NFL career. If you're returning from a month-long trip to Mars this morning, you may just be hearing that Owens is now a member of the Buffalo Bills. The enigmatic receiver was brought in to help in the Bills' desperate attempt to finally, mercifully, field a winning football team.
The key to any potential progression in the standings, however, still remains in the hands of QB Trent Edwards. There's very little doubt that Owens' presence alone will make Edwards a better quarterback, at least in terms of statistics and reading defenses. What kind of season can we expect from Edwards, and how much of an effect might it possibly have in the win column? Five specific seasons from Owens' past might help us make a crude guess.
In 1997, San Francisco 49ers WR Jerry Rice tore an ACL and missed the vast majority of the regular season. Owens immediately became one of Steve Young's go-to targets in just his second season in the league and made a name for himself that year, catching 60 passes for 936 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 2001, Rice left the 49ers to finish his career with the Oakland Raiders. Owens stepped into the top receiver role, catching 92 passes for 1,412 yards with 16 touchdowns from Jeff Garcia as San Francisco doubled their win total from the 2000 season (they went 12-4).
In 2004, Owens was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. In his first season in the city he'd eventually alienate, Owens caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 scores; though he missed the season finale and the entirety of the playoffs, Donovan McNabb led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl - where Owens returned and played extremely well despite a 24-21 loss.
In 2006, Owens became a member of the Dallas Cowboys. It was a season of transition in Big D, however; despite the fact that Owens caught 85 passes for 1,180 yards and 13 scores, the Cowboys made a quarterback switch mid-season, benching Drew Bledsoe in favor of the incredibly unproven Tony Romo.
2007 was Romo's first full season as Dallas' starter. Owens caught 81 passes for 1,355 yards and 15 scores, the Cowboys went 13-3 and Romo was an instant celebrity.
These five years of Owens' career were singled out because of the transition element in all of them - he was either seeing an increased role, switching quarterbacks, or switching teams. Despite all of the change, Owens still managed to average 79 receptions, 1,217 yards and 13 scores in these seasons. That's great news for the Bills. Even if we see a 15% decline in Owens' numbers because of age, diminishing skills, another unproven QB/offensive coordinator, et al, Owens should be in line for a 69-catch, 1,010-yard, 10-TD season. For an offense as anemic as Buffalo's, those numbers would, obviously, be very welcome.
In order to properly measure how much better (statistically) Edwards could be with Owens in town, two steps must be taken: adjusting Edwards' stats to accommodate a full season's play and averaging out the jumps in quarterback production in each of the five Owens seasons detailed above.
Had Edwards played 16 full games last season, he would have completed roughly 63% of his passes for 3,084 yards, 13 TD and 12 INT. His QB rating would have been 85.07.
In 1997 (the year Rice was hurt), Steve Young (while playing in three more games than the previous year) threw for 619 more yards, 5 more touchdowns and saw his QB rating jump by 7.5 points.
In 2001 (the year Rice left for Oakland), Garcia threw for 740 fewer yards than the previous season (which should be adjusted slightly due to the impact of Rice leaving, in our view), threw one more touchdown and two more picks, and his QB rating dipped by close to three points.
Easily the QB to see the biggest spike in production with Owens on board, McNabb threw for 659 more yards, 15 more touchdowns and 3 fewer interceptions in 2004 than in 2003. His QB rating spiked by a whopping 25 points.
In 2006, the combination of Bledsoe and Romo increased QB production in Dallas by 428 yards, 3 TD and, unfortunately, 4 picks. When Romo took over full-time in '07, 133 more yards, 10 more touchdowns, 2 fewer interceptions and 2 QB rating points were added to the '06 totals.
Averaging all of this out and adjusting slightly in certain areas for circumstance, the Bills can expect to see two completion percentage points, 259 yards, 7 touchdowns and 8 QB rating points added to Edwards' projected full-season totals. The simple math puts the rough 2009 Edwards calculation as follows:
65% completions, 3,344 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT and a 93.05 QB rating
Obviously, a lot has to happen to meet that expectation. Both players need to stay healthy for a full sixteen games (cue evil glares in the direction of Jason Peters). Turk Schonert needs to call games consistently. The offensive line needs further fortifications. But using past precedent, the Bills can expect their new receiver to have a solid season, and the effect on Edwards should be quite positive as well.
Oh, and before you ask - in these five seasons, Owens' teams averaged 2.4 more wins than in the previous season. 9-7, here we come!