Updated: 5:30 p.m.
Bengals president Mike Brown confirmed his club's interest in wide receiver Terrell Owens on Monday and indicated the Bengals had made an offer to the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.
As the end of the business day approached, the sides had talked a couple of times about a proposal that is believed to be for one year and is incentive laden and it looks like that's where it could stand until Tuesday. It looked like the the Bengals were being the most aggressive team for him when Fox reported via ProFootballTalk.com that the Rams have chosen not to pursue Owens.
The Bengals want a deal done so he's at Georgetown College for the first practice Thursday at 9 a.m. and don't appear ready to get in a long negotiation.
With young core players such as cornerback Johnathan Joseph and running back Cedric Benson heading into the last year of their deals and cornerback Leon Hall two years removed from free agency, the Bengals are looking to drop their big money on them. Plus, they already are paying wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Chad Ochocinco about $14 million for this season.
Brown said the uncertain labor situation isn't preventing any extensions from getting done because the players won't get paid if there is a lockout in 2011.
Monday's hope was that Owens would put his desire of playing with quarterback Carson Palmer and Ochocinco above financial desires.
"It's up to him," Brown said before the Bengals training camp media luncheon. "We are talking to him. We have some interest."
Owens, as well known for his reality TV roles and his toxic locker room résumé, made an impression on Brown during last March's free agency visit.
"When he was here, I was surprised," Brown said. "Privately he is not at all the way his public image is depicted. He's a pleasant person, a quiet person. I found him engaging and I do trust my own eyes on this sort of thing. If he chooses to come here he could help our team. It's going to be his decision."
Brown also said that Palmer, throwing routes to Owens in California, has reported that Owens "can still run."
"He changes field position; he makes long plays," Brown said.
Much of the interest in Owens stems from just how close the club believes it is to making a serious run at the Super Bowl. Asked about a team that is generally regarded as the most talented in head coach Marvin Lewis' eight seasons in Cincinnati, Brown is cautious but excited.
"If we're healthy we can be a team that can play with anyone," Brown said. "We have ambitions to have that one golden year. You always do when you start out. But this year more than most in recent times I think we have a better shot at it."
As of Friday morning at Paul Brown Stadium, there was no interest in signing the 36-year-old Owens. But after agent Drew Rosenhaus extended a feeler, the Bengals began to reevaluate their health at wide receiver and continued to hear positive feedback about Owens from Palmer and Ochocinco. The Bengals apparently decided to make an offer Monday morning after head coach Marvin Lewis emerged from a meeting with a coaching staff that nearly opted for Owens back in March during free agency.
At the time Bryant won a close call because of his age (29) and received a four-year, $28 million contract. But when Bryant's injured knee flared up the last couple of weeks during last month's workouts and he had to be backed off during a mandatory minicamp where he struggled, the Bengals began to re-think some options.
Bryant's knee apparently looked good when the Bengals visited him recently in Arizona and the hope is he'll be able to produce at his career 15.3-yards per catch average while being rested in spots. But Owens is more than big-play insurance. The 6-3, 225-pound Owens, a six-time Pro Bowler, is a big, physical receiver with the third most touchdown catches of all time with 144 and a 14.9-yard average himself.
After the luncheon Lewis said the interest in Owens has nothing to do with Bryant's health.
"We felt good about his goals and our goals having the opportunity to match up," Lewis said of the March visit. "We went in a different direction at that point. Now that he's still available it provides an opportunity to add another quality football player."
Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer still wear the bruises of matchups with Owens. When the Bengals pulled within 17-16 of the Cowboys two years ago in Dallas in the second half, Owens broke the game open with a 57-yard touchdown on a simple slant over the middle. When the Bengals staved off the 49ers, 41-38, at PBS during Lewis' first season in 2003, Owens had 127 yards on eight catches, one a 58-yard touchdown.
"Terrell has done it. We've witnessed it. We've tried to prevent it," Lewis said. "San Francisco in '03. I've seen it firsthand. I saw it in '02 in Washington. You think you're going to be on reality TV now. To be on that sideline watching him do it, it's real reality TV. He's an effective player. You like what he brings you. You like what people say who have had him on their team about the positive and we just have to make sure none of the negative creeps in, which over the last couple of years he's been beyond that."
Brown saw those plays, too.
"I think I would rather see him line up on our side of the ball rather than the other side of the ball," Brown said. "I've seen him do it against us. I'd like him to be here and do it against someone else."
An Owens signing could ice the careers of young wideouts like Jerome Simpson and Dez Briscoe. And it would make it hard for second-year punt returner Quan Cosby to make it.
"Somebody is going to get stifled," Lewis said. "One of the difficult things of professional sports is (reaching) that balance and what is the best thing? 2010 or down the road and trying to fit that balance?"
Clearly it is a move with designs on putting the Bengals over the top of a very demanding 2010 schedule and with the blessing of their quarterback, a must after Owens' bloody track record with Jeff Garcia in Frisco, Donovan McNabb in Philly, and Tony Romo in Dallas. Lewis made it clear that Palmer's scouting reports played a major factor.
"An opportunity to have a tryout is pretty good; particularly with a guy at that point in his career," Lewis said. "I think Carson's comments to me, I guess they resonate well. I know when Carson has something on his mind when he calls and I call back on an unknown number and he answers, I know he wants to talk."
The decision to pursue Owens put Brown in the spotlight again for signing players with checkered pasts, either off the field or in the locker room. Owens may be the most outspoken and controversial player in NFL history after ugly exits from San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas. Last year's stint in Buffalo was pretty benign.
"I judge him by what I see. There's a lot of commentary about people in the public eye and some of it is way overboard," Brown said. "Some of it is because people don't really know the situation. Yes, people can make mistakes. It doesn't mean they go on the rest of their lives making mistakes. They can get their ship pointed in the right direction. This is a 36-year-old man who has been through a lot. He's proven as a player."
One of those guys that Brown gave a second chance, running back Cedric Benson, met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last Thursday to discuss his assault charge in Texas. Lewis has said Benson was "jumped" and "sucker-punched" in an Austin bar.
"I can say this about Cedric: When he's been here with us he's been outstanding," Brown said. "He practices hard, he conducts himself to a high standard. ... Our understanding what went on down there is he wasn't to blame for anything out of the way. But he has to persuade the commissioner that's the case. I'm not going to pre-judge what our commissioner decides. The ball's in his court."
As far as the season, Lewis calls it "a great schedule," that opponents know will play a "sound, well-put together team. ... When you play like that, as coaches, you sleep better on Saturday night."
Brown and Lewis sat at one of the head tables in the PBS East Lounge and chatted amiably over salad on a day Brown chose not to talk about Lewis' contract, which ends after this season.
"Marvin knows I hold him in high regard," Brown said. "But it's an internal matter and I won't discuss it (publicly)."
Brown also commented on some pressing economic matters, saying he believes the owners and players will reach an agreement on a CBA. but "we have to be patient." As for the question about a renegotiation of the stadium lease, he made it clear he feels the Bengals or Reds can't solve a problem brought on by the recession.
"We made a deal with the county and we've lived up to it and we expect them to live up their end of it," Brown said. "The reason there is a shortfall in the tax receipts doesn't have a thing to do with us. There's nothing we can to do remedy it. That's the problem. The shortfall is in the tax receipts. That's a reflection, I think, of the economy.
"The other thing that was created that was a problem was when the stadium moved west. We originally were ticketed to sit right next to the suspension bridge. The result of moving the stadium a quarter of a mile or half a mile, whatever it was, is literally 150 plus million. That was not our decision. We asked them not to do it. We thought it could create a problem. No one ever talks about that. That's another thing beyond our ability to correct. I would have to feel the county's problem with both stadia, it just isn't this stadium, it's the other stadium, is the sales tax revenue has fallen short of where it was programmed. It's an amount of money that neither we nor the Reds can make good. They're going to have to figure that out some other way."