In the wake of defeat in the AFC championship game, Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan spoke with purposeful vagueness last week about his team's potential to perhaps take on a high-profile player with a problematic past.
On Monday, Shanahan essentially attached an identity to the unnamed veteran player -- Terrell Owens.
ESPN.com has confirmed that Shanahan met with Owens, the exiled Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver, and agent Drew Rosenhaus in Denver. The meeting might be the first step in an effort to acquire Owens, who is still under contract to the Eagles.
It also might amount to nothing at all. But sources said there appears to be some degree of mutual interest, even if the meeting was generally viewed as just a get-acquainted session.
Beyond confirming the meeting, Rosenhaus declined to comment.
The consensus around the league has been that, since most teams believe the Eagles will release Owens before they must pay him bonuses totaling $7.5 million in March, the trade market for him would be blunted. Eagles coach Andy Reid insisted during Senior Bowl all-star game practices last week, though, that several teams had indicated an interest in having trade talks.
Eagles officials early this month granted Rosenhaus permission to seek possible trade partners. Philadelphia's obvious hope is to get something in return before they are forced, for contractual reasons, to release the talented but troublesome Owens. It is not known what kind of market price the Eagles would attach to Owens if Philadelphia finds a franchise willing to enter into substantive trade discussions.
Asked about Owens last week during his season-ending news conference, Shanahan did not mention him by name. But he pointed out that, with such a veteran team, the Broncos might have the ability to bring in a veteran player who had not fit in well with other teams. The consensus was that Shanahan was talking about Owens.
"If somebody handles himself the right way they could come into the organization, but they're going to have to live by the standards we practice," Shanahan said.
Some veterans, most notably center Tom Nalen, told The Denver Post they could see a scenario in which Owens could be absorbed into the Broncos locker room.
"If it would work anywhere, I think it would work here because of the guys in the locker room," Nalen said. "Guys would keep him straight ... I think he'd conform. He'd fit in here. He'd fit into any offense. He's a great player."
Denver's offense statistically ranked No. 5 overall in the league in 2005 but was just 18th in passing. Eleven-year veteran receiver Rod Smith had another strong season, but he will be 36 in May and could use some support. The other starter, Ashley Lelie, has great potential but continues to be inconsistent. Most league observers believe the Broncos need to further strengthen the offense in 2006.
His off-field actions aside, Owens is still regarded as a premier playmaker, one who would draw interest from a core group of 5-6 teams if he is released. Rosenhaus has been able to orchestrate trades under difficult circumstances in the past, but finding a franchise that is inclined to surrender even a low-round draft choice for Owens was seen as maybe expecting too much. Clearly, though, the Broncos have some degree of interest.
The Eagles could, of course, arrange a trade on their own. But given Owens' contract status, and the likelihood any new franchise acquiring him would probably need him to rework his existing deal, his cooperation would be necessary.
Owens, 32, has five seasons remaining on the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed with Philadelphia after the Eagles acquired him in a three-team trade in 2004. He is due two roster bonuses totaling $7.5 million in March, one a payment of $5 million on March 5 and a second payment of $2.5 million later in the month.
Certainly, with what transpired during the past season, Owens cannot return to the Eagles and teams interested in him will use that knowledge to their advantage.
The 10-year veteran was suspended twice last season, once 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 inseason 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 2004. 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.