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Contract Squabbles, Controversy Plague Eagles? Offseason
Bill Meltzer. 16th May, 2005 - 3:23 am

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It?s almost inevitable in modern professional sports that a trip to the championship game will be quickly followed by players lining up to demand big raises and long-term contract extensions. That?s what the Philadelphia Eagles, coming off a close Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, are currently experiencing.

The Eagles, one of the hardest of NFL contract hardliners, recently ended a mandatory three-day minicamp that was more notable for who was absent than who was present. The honeymoon between the club and Terrell Owens ? the team?s most controversial player since fellow 49er alum Ricky Watters ? came to an end after a surprisingly smooth first year. Owens, who has six years left on the $49 million contract he signed after being traded to the Eagles, skipped out on the minicamp on the advice of his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Also missing were starting tailback Brian Westbrook and defensive tackles Corey Simon and Hollis Thomas. One the NFL?s top pass-catchers out of the backfield, Westbrook wants a long-term, rather than the one-year deal the club offered, and is the most likely of the three to get something reasonably close to what he seeks. Meanwhile, Thomas recently told the Philadelphia media he?s likely to skip at least part of the team?s ?voluntary? minicamp in June, because the team won?t rework the incentive bonuses in his contract.

Meanwhile, the Eagles informed wide receiver Freddie Mitchell that he wasn?t invited to the recent workouts and then released their former first-round pick. Mitchell, who has every bit of Owens? mouth and ego but lacks his speed and size, is now looking elsewhere for employment.

Completing the off-season soap opera, the NFL cited the Eagles for violating the league?s collective bargaining agreement with the players association. The reason: The agreement contains off-season conditioning clauses that prohibit on-field activities during club-sponsored workouts that resemble formal pre-season scrimmages. As a result, Philadelphia must forfeit a week of workouts. The program will resume May 23, although rookies and rehabbing veterans can continue the conditioning drills in the interim. All players who reported to the initial workouts must be paid for their time.

Speaking of getting paid, Owens? holdout subjected him to a $240,000 fine from the Eagles for his failure to attend the minicamp. The team may also recoup a large percentage of the $9.6 million signing bonus Owens received last year. In an interview with ESPN, Rosenhaus said his client has not decided whether he?ll attend the June sessions. Meanwhile, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie informed the Philadelphia media that the club will not renegotiate Owens? contract under any circumstances.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who took the high road when asked to respond to criticisms of his Super Bowl performance from Owens, Mitchell and others, predicted that all the controversy will blow over by time the season stars in September. Addressing a question about Owens, McNabb said he expects his main receiver to be in the lineup by opening day, if only to avoid forfeiting such a big chunk of money in futile pursuit of a raise.

One thing?s for certain. The Eagles defense of the NFC championship and dreams of an elusive Super Bowl victory depend on getting their house in order and restoring the team-oriented approach that has become the hallmark of coach Andy Reid?s squads.