The epic battle of the Birds

Flamboyant wideout Terrell Owens and his new agent, the mercenary Drew Rosenhaus, are trying to engage the Philadelphia Eagles in a steel-cage Texas death match over his contract. This is evolving into a full-scale fire-in-a-theater drama.Dealing with Rosenhaus is like bartering with Beelzebub. He has the hiss and bite of an alligator.Meanwhile, T.O., who loves to warm his hands by the media spotlight, has passion and pursuit that is incessant and unforgiving. He also is famously egocentric and gloriously contemptuous of convention. Contradiction runs deep in his nature. Consequently, folks love him and loathe him — simultaneously. He has the capacity to turn a smile upside down and right side up in a matter of maddening moments.Of course, the bottom line on Owens is he’s a colossus in the NFL. The guy is a productive stud.

Conversely, the Eagles are masters of controlling their salary cap. When their stars play economic hardball with them, they always strike out. It seems as if the Birds delight in taking some of the buckshot out of their green goliaths. And what really must gall the scalded players is that owner Jeffrey Lurie and economics wizard/henchman Joe Banner definitely are guys who sat at the nerd table in high school cafe.

So Owens/Rosenhaus vs. Banner/Lurie/Andy Reid figures to be a helluva heavyweight tag-team tussle.

The crux of the matter is Owens wants to be able to bathe in additional $1,000 bills. And he wants more security. You see, NFL contracts, sans signing and roster bonuses, are more insecure than Hollywood actresses.

Well, Owens already is going for the jugular. He already has taken a not-so-veiled shot at QB Donovan McNabb for barfing during crunch time of the Super Bowl. And in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, he claimed the Philadelphia organization is “leaking stuff to make me look bad.” And he disputes the notion that wanting to redo the seven-year, $47 million contract he signed last year is selfish, claiming the Eagles can terminate the pact whenever they see fit.

T.O. claims the Birds low-balled him last year because they knew he was in a jam and was dying to play for the Eagles and with McNabb. His former agent, David Joseph, had screwed up Owens’ shot at unrestricted free agency, which led to a failed trade with Baltimore before San Francisco dealt him to the Eagles.

Owens’ ardor to be a Bird has burned him. The fiscally adroit Eagles took full advantage by paying him only (a relative adjective, I know) $8.5 million in signing and roster bonuses a year ago, and pushing the remaining $7.5 million of lump-sum payments into 2006.

What T.O. is now sweating is that the Eagles can pay him $3.25 million in salary this year, and then walk away without much salary cap consequence if they choose not to pay him that $7.5 million, due next March.

T.O.’s shot at McNabb apparently was to launch some mortar fire into the escalating hostilities. He likely will bring in the heavy artillery by boycotting minicamps and training camp.

So who blinks? Owens and Rosenhaus? Or Banner and Reid? The Eagles are sworn to sacrifice their first-born sons before ever renegotiating a contract with a player over 30.

It says here that the Eagles eventually will blink, but will do it while hiding behind dark glasses and semantics by using the rhetoric they restructured, not renegotiated, Owens’ contract by sliding him additional guaranteed money.

You could see the foreshadowing of matters spiraling out of control for the Eagles on the day they signed Owens. After all, when the lion and the lamb lie down together, the lamb isn’t likely to get much sleep.