The Buffalo Bills shocked the football world on March 7, 2009 when they signed enigmatic and controversial receiver Terrell Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million deal. Though the contract was considered low-risk for both sides, the move reeked of desperation for both parties - Owens didn't have many suitors, and the Bills were scrambling to field a winner. For both sides of the deal, it was a gamble worth taking.
That gamble hasn't paid off in the way fans of the team - and even fans of Owens himself - had wished. The Bills are 4-7, the only team in the NFL with an interim head coach, and an offense that T.O. was supposed to fix still doesn't have a legitimate pro quarterback.
The end result hasn't been pleasant, but in recent weeks, Owens is starting to prove his doubters wrong. Many media critics called Owens washed up, or would mention his "deteriorating skills," but you can bet that NFL personnel executives - particularly those on teams a piece or two away from a championship run - are noticing that Owens is back. In his last two games, Owens has caught 14 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, which went for 98 and 51 yards.
Enjoy it while you can, folks. We're only guaranteed five more games of one of the NFL's greatest players of all-time suiting up in a Bills uniform.
The Fitzpatrick Effect
Owens' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, talked up Trent Edwards upon his client's signing in Buffalo, calling him a talented young quarterback with great promise. These were sentiments that Owens himself echoed at the time of his signing, as well as early in the season. But it's now painfully clear that Owens never developed a clean rapport with the third-year quarterback. It's also clear that Edwards' successor at starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has established that rapport, and done so quickly.
In the seven games that Edwards started this season - and thus, they were seven games in which Buffalo attempted to execute game plans for Edwards - Owens caught 18 passes for 300 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers are awful, particularly when considering Owens' Hall of Fame credentials. Owens was also held without a catch in a game for the first time since his rookie season (1996) in Week 3, a game that Edwards started.
In the four games that Fitzpatrick has started, however, Owens has been dominant. In those contests, he has 22 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns, one of them coming on a reverse in a Week 8 loss to Houston. He's been more involved in the game plan with Fitzpatrick at the helm, and his numbers have been excellent. Buffalo's offense has resembled a real-life NFL offense in those weeks, too.
What was lost in the signing
When the signing of Owens went down, fans immediately spoke of two major points: the potential risks (i.e. Owens' locker room issues) and the potential he gave Buffalo's offense. What very few spoke of, however, was the fact that Owens is, quite literally, a living legend. He's one of the most prolific players in NFL history - a bona fide playmaker - and Buffalo hasn't seen the likes of talent like his in quite some time.
I understand that priority number one for the fan base is that the Bills finally put together a winner. In a season that no longer carries legitimate playoff implications, however, watching Owens is fun again. It's tough to grasp in such a difficult season just how lucky we are to see such a phenomenal player don our team's uniform. At age 35, the man still does things that very few NFL receivers past or present are capable of. He's starting to do them in Buffalo, too.
In terms of its ultimate goal, the Owens experiment has failed in Buffalo. Owens told reporters that he'd return the key to the city of Buffalo that he was given last July if the Bills didn't make the playoffs, so he's got roughly two more months of possession time with that key. But with five games left in yet another transitional season for this organization, Owens' play of late is providing a nice little escape for fans. We get to witness T.O. in Buffalo for five more weeks. Enjoy it, because we may never see a player quite like him on our team again.
T.O. in 2010?
Everyone's favorite question to ask at this time is whether or not the Bills will pursue a contract extension for Owens. His one-year deal expires next March, and at that time he'll be free to sign with any NFL team that wants him.
Forget about the over-the-hill comments. Owens is still an elite player. He's got plenty left in the tank. True, he might be a little more inclined to blow up next season once his obligatory one-year grace period runs out, but there are risks with signing any player.
For now, it's tough to speculate, because the Bills have much, much bigger fish to fry. They need to re-structure their front office, and they might need a new head coach as well. Odds are slim that Owens stays in Buffalo anyway, but they decrease dramatically if Perry Fewell isn't given the team's permanent head coaching job. It's very unlikely that a new regime in Buffalo would keep a player like Owens around, no matter how talented or productive he is.
Still, it's tough to be averse to Owens re-signing in Buffalo, because he's a phenomenal player. He can still be the centerpiece of an elite offense. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing him in Buffalo next season, but you're free to disagree with me. Hence the poll.