PHILADELPHIA — Terrell Owens' future remains in limbo.
The All-Pro wide receiver is awaiting a decision by an arbitrator following his grievance hearing against the Philadelphia Eagles that lasted more than 13 hours Friday.
Arbitrator Richard Bloch is expected to issue a decision by Tuesday. Owens' side argued his four-game suspension is excessive and the Eagles' plan to deactivate him once that time is up is far too severe a penalty.
"There's no authority under the collective bargaining agreement to both suspend the player for four weeks and then send him home for the rest of the season," said attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the NFL Players' Association. "Second, the four games itself we don't believe satisfy the legal standards."
Both Kessler and Richard Berthelsen, general counsel for the union, were optimistic that Owens wouldn't have to sit out the remainder of the season.
If Bloch rules the Eagles have to reinstate Owens, the team could be forced to allow him to practice and use their facility but they don't have to play him.
"We believe they have to restore the status he was in and that he has to be treated like any other player at that point," Kessler said. "Now I guess if someone thinks there's a better receiver on the Eagles, the coach doesn't have to play him."
Philadelphia could release Owens to avoid the distraction of having him around the team. The Eagles would rather wait until after the season to let him go. Owens is due to receive a $5 million roster bonus next March, so he certainly would be gone by then.
Neither Owens nor his agent Drew Rosenhaus spoke with reporters after leaving the hearing late Friday night, but Kessler made it clear Owens wants to return to the Eagles, despite eight hours of contentious testimony against him from coach Andy Reid and other members of the organization.
"He just wants to play," Kessler said. "He wants to go out there and try to get the team in the playoffs."
The reigning conference champion Eagles are 4-5 and last in the NFC East going into Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
Owens was suspended Nov. 5 following a series of incidents in which he again criticized quarterback Donovan McNabb, called the organization "classless" and fought with former teammate Hugh Douglas, who serves as team "ambassador."
Two days later, the Eagles extended the suspension to four games and told Owens not to return to the team. Owens is losing about $200,000 per game from his $3.5 million salary. He would be paid for the games he doesn't play if the Eagles deactivate him as planned once the suspension is up.
"We believe the evidence showed that if you looked at the conduct here, there was no basis for this discipline," Kessler said. "What's particularly offensive here is what they are saying is that you can't be a professional football for the rest of this season and possibly for the rest of his contract."
Owens has five years remaining on a seven-year, $48.97 million contract that he signed when he came to Philadelphia in March 2004. His problems with management started when he fired his longtime agent David Joseph, hired Rosenhaus and demanded a new contract after an outstanding season in which he caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Eagles refused to redo the deal, and have had issues with Owens ever since.
Soon after Philadelphia lost to New England in the Super Bowl, Owens took his first verbal shot at McNabb, suggesting the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback was tired in the fourth quarter of the loss.
Owens skipped all the mini-camps, and was banished from training camp for one week after a heated dispute with Reid that followed a shouting match with offensive coordinator Brad Childress.
Owens continued his criticism of McNabb, calling him a "hypocrite" at one point. McNabb, who responded harshly the first time Owens dissed him, didn't speak with his best receiver for a prolonged period in training camp. They briefly reconciled their relationship and performed well together on the field — Owens had 47 catches for 763 yards and six TDs in seven games.
After Owens sat out a 17-10 loss to Washington, McNabb said the team was "better off" without its top playmaker.
The Eagles finally had it with Owens following an interview with ESPN.com in which he blasted the organization for not publicly recognizing his 100th career TD catch in a game on Oct. 23 and said the team would be better off with Green Bay's Brett Favre as the quarterback instead of McNabb. He also fought with Douglas that week.
"A lot of what the Eagles have done is responding to press reports," Berthelsen said. "They make quite an issue of if there's a lot of press about something, that can be a distraction to us. What we say is we can't control that, players can't control that."
Kessler said a closer look at the entire transcript of Owens' interview with ESPN.com presented a more positive spin.
"There was a lot of reaction to some snippets of Terrell's interview," he said. "If you read that whole transcript, you get an entirely different impression of what he was saying and what his intent was."
A contrite Owens pleaded for another chance in a public apology outside his home in Moorestown, N.J., one day after the Eagles told him to go home. Some players, including linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, said this week they would welcome Owens back. But management hasn't changed its stance.
Owens was set to earn base salaries of $770,000 in 2006, $5.5 million in 2007, $6.5 million in 2008, $7.5 million in 2009, and $8.5 million in 2010.
FERGUSON'S IFFY: Green Bay Packers receiver Robert Ferguson's knee injury isn't as serious as originally thought, and coach Mike Sherman hasn't ruled him out of playing against Minnesota on Monday night.
Ferguson, who has missed the last three games, had tests Saturday that revealed an aggravation of a bruise in the left knee, stemming from the torn lateral-collateral ligament. Some teammates had speculated that Ferguson may have aggravated the LCL tear during practice Friday.
"I thought it might have been (a major setback). But, no," Sherman said Saturday. "He had very little swelling today, and everything was real tight in the examination."
Ferguson, who had returned to practice on a full-time basis Thursday, was hurt on one of the final plays of a 2-minute drill on Friday.
STEELERS RE-SIGN WILLIAMS: Former starting cornerback Willie Williams re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday after being released earlier in the week.
The Steelers cut Williams so they could activate tight end Matt Kranchick to play Sunday night against Cleveland, but Kranchick was waived Saturday.
Williams, a 13-season veteran, spent most of last season as a Steelers starter, but lost his job to Ike Taylor late in training camp and was activated for only three of the team's first eight games.
Rookie Trai Essex, a third-round draft pick, could make his first career start at left tackle Sunday in Baltimore, replacing Marvel Smith.