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A costly gamble for Owens?

PHILADELPHIA -- In March 2004, Terrell Owens signed his dream contract -- seven years and $48.38 million.

Discounting his signing bonus and 2004 salary, Philadelphia's star receiver is owed $38.82 million through the 2010 season, nonguaranteed.

However, if Owens plays in the Super Bowl against the wishes of his surgeon and his coach, and if Owens has a career-ending injury, he'd stand to lose about $38.5 million.

Here's how:

Owens underwent right ankle surgery Dec. 22 to stabilize a fractured fibula and ease the pain of a torn deltoid ligament. The operating orthopedic surgeon, Mark Myerson, said Tuesday he will not clear Owens to play a week from Sunday against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. That leaves the decision up to Owens and Eagles officials.

Philadelphia coach and general manager Andy Reid has yet to voice a definitive opinion. Suppose, however, that Reid believes Owens should not play but Owens demands to play, at any cost. In that case, the following protocol would have to occur, according to a high-ranking official of an NFL team with knowledge of the process.

Owens would have to sign a waiver acknowledging full responsibility for any injury he might incur. If injured and unable to play again, Owens would be entitled to workman's compensation of about $100,000. The amount would depend on Pennsylvania law. He'd also be entitled to a onetime NFL benefit of $250,000, the official said.

That's it: $350,000.

There is a caveat called a "skill or injury guarantee," the official said. This is an addendum to some NFL contracts. It is not known if Owens's contract contains such a clause. His agent, David Joseph, did not return a call.

What is known is these clauses are extremely rare. A team might have one or two players with such a contractual agreement, the official said.

The Oakland Raiders, for example, signed Tim Brown to a one-year, $760,000 contract last summer. The deal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, included a skill or injury guarantee of $450,000.

Usually, a team offers a player a hefty signing bonus in lieu of an injury guarantee and backloads the contract. Owens's contract appears to fit the NFL norm. He received an $8.9 million signing bonus on a largely backloaded deal. He made $660,000 in base salary this season. But, in 2010, he'll make $8.5 million.

Barring this injury clause, Owens stands to lose all future earnings if he signs a waiver, the NFL official said.

However, a lawyer who advises owners of pro teams believes otherwise. Harry Manion, a founding partner of Cooley Manion Jones in Boston, said it's possible to litigate against waivers.

If Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie seeks Manion's advice, he already knows his answer.

"I'd say, `Wipe your nose with that release,' " Manion said. "[Owens] would try to get through the release, say he was coerced, that he was under influence."

Manion is an interesting voice because Lurie is his friend and might seek his advice.

"If I were advising the Eagles, I would say to Jeff: I would not rely on that waiver," Manion said. "I would tell Owens I need his doctor to tell us he is medically able to play. Once I get that, I'm clear."

Problem is, Manion said, "the doctor made a public pronouncement. If he doesn't back off that, [the Eagles] need an independent medical exam."

That would be extremely hard to come by. It will be fewer than seven weeks between Owens's surgery and the Super Bowl. Though the cocky receiver has said publicly he intends to play, the reality is that Myerson believes Owens needs 8-10 weeks to heal.

Myerson is unlikely to risk a lawsuit to clear Owens.

"In this situation -- any doctor would be out of his mind to say you're free," said William Morgan, the orthopedics chief at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston.

Morgan was the Red Sox team doctor who twice performed a novel suturing procedure on pitcher Curt Schilling's right ankle during the 2004 playoffs.

In those situations, Morgan said he proceeded with confidence because "the procedure was very low risk" and "we took a nice timeout, took a deep breath, and really reviewed all the pros and cons."

The Red Sox did not have Schilling sign a waiver before undergoing the procedure, according to Morgan, who was let go by the team in December.

Schilling's publicist did not return a call, and Schilling did not return an e-mail. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein also did not return an e-mail. But neither Schilling nor Epstein expressed public disapproval with the procedure. Without Morgan's ingenious medical work, the Red Sox may not have won the World Series.

That said, the liability issue is curious because Schilling is owed $38.5 million, almost identical to what the Eagles owe Owens ($38.82 million).

Morgan pointed out yesterday he technically was a consultant, not a team employee, at the time of Schilling's procedure. Therefore, he could have been -- and still could be -- liable if Schilling can't pitch again.

Schilling underwent offseason surgery to repair the ankle tendon and recently said his ankle is fine.

"I get the gist of what you're asking," Morgan said. "Where does liability start and end? Liability is a funny thing. Lawyers and patients and people in general can make a mountain out of a molehill if they want. But in my experience, being in practice for 20 years, luckily, knock on wood, I've never gotten sued."

Morgan said he treated Schilling's suturing "like any other surgical procedure."

"There's the potential for something to go wrong," Morgan said. "I documented the entire procedure, documented that we had discussed it with Curt in very much detail. With any procedure that goes awry, the potential of recourse is available to the patient. But, as a physician with any patient, a professional athlete or not, you try to educate the patient so they know the pros and cons."

Morgan does not have direct knowledge of Owens's injury, but he provided some medical perspective.

Players itching to return "comes up all the time," Morgan said. "These are pro athletes, and they are very motivated to return. You have to have a great rapport with an athlete to bring them back down to earth.

"We're talking about the rest of someone's career and life. You don't want to pay for the rest of your life. If you can't play with your kids, you haven't done the right thing for you.

"You have to blind yourself to the fact that we have a Super Bowl coming up. You shouldn't even be walking."

As doctors, Morgan said, "I guess it comes down to the fact that we're only in a position of making recommendations. In any situation, the individual can make a decision. If you make a decision, you have to suffer ramifications."

That, of course, is the question facing the Eagles. If Owens wants to play and will not be denied, who would suffer the financial ramifications if he sustains a career-ending injury? Owens? The team? Both? And, to what degree?

Morgan said he's never been in a situation at the professional level where a player ignored his medical opinion.

"Every guy I've talked to has listened to my recommendation," Morgan said.

Owens, however, has never been one to be "every guy." He's his own man. T.O.

Owens, as expected, was unavailable to the media yesterday. However, on his way out of the Eagles' practice facility, he stopped to chat with a visitor. The visitor mentioned that Owens's season began well.

"Started out good," Owens said. "And it's gonna end good." 

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