By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 20, 2005 at 5:06 AM

{image1} This just in. Terrell Owens hasn't changed at all.

The Eagles star wide-out, who seemingly found a new, more team-oriented, persona last season, has apparently reverted to his true self. And what self is that?

It's a guy who wants more money. Now.

Never mind that Owens just signed a new contract last year - one which (we presume) was negotiated without a bayonet in his back. In T.O.'s world, a superlative season should mean more cash in his sharpie filled stockings.

The immediate reaction from the Eagles organization was, well ... nothing. Unlike my Redskins under Joe Gibbs - where the slightest bit of rumor will trigger a flurry of press conferences to either deny, vehemently deny, or just change the subject - the Eagles are not a group that overreacts.

They basically said "no" and left it at that. It's the kind of proper approach firm parents take with their children who want candy at the checkout counter. You can't negotiate with "no." Owens can now contemplate his next move, which I don't even think he has figured out yet.

What's he gonna do? Threaten to sit out the season? Defect to NFL Europe? Throw a cream pie in Andy Reid's face?

Fans in Philly, too, were understandably peeved at #81 for this transparent second swipe at the salary cap piñata. While Owens' compensation (seven years for $46 million, with an $8.5 mil bonus) is not Brinks-truck caliber in its haul, it most certainly is in the ballpark of elite wide-outs.

Plus, don't forget that Owens lost the chance to ride the whip hand on his own contract situation last winter, when his (former) agent failed to file the proper paperwork in time to make T.O. fully free.

This led to Baltimore making a play for him with the 49ers via trade. Unhappy with the prospect of playing with "learn-as-he-earns" trainee Kyle Boller, T.O. stomped and kicked his way up the road to Philly.

No wonder then that this spoiled child believes he can stomp and kick his way to more cash. It worked before, why not again? Plus, he got seduced by agent/reptile Drew Rosenhaus into dumping his old agent for him. Rosenhaus now has at least three clients I know of who fully EXPECT him to get new contracts on deals that are yet to expire.

The other two are Redskins Santana Moss and Sean Taylor. And if you think T.O. has gumption asking for a raise after one big year, get a load of these guys.

Moss hasn't even been a Redskin for two months yet, and he won't report to team sponsored workouts until he's got a new contract. This from a guy who is coming off a 45 catch season, and someone who needs desperately to get in sync with his new QB, Patrick Ramsey, as soon as possible.

Taylor, meanwhile, signed a contract last summer as a rookie, and complained about it almost before the final copy had been put on file with the NFLPA. He too sacked his agent for Rosenhaus, who now seeks a bigger deal for a non-Pro Bowl sophomore with an off-field history and penchant for freelancing on defense.

While it is painfully obvious that to these players "commitment" and "honor" mean nothing next to the word "contract," we do have to put the NFL system in context. Unlike MLB and the NBA, contracts are not guaranteed - only the signing bonus is.

What that means is teams routinely "dishonor" the contracts they too agreed on just a year earlier, if they feel like they can absorb the cost of a player's prorated signing bonus by cutting him. Teams will also routinely ask players to take a substantial pay cut to avoid a roster cut over the summer. They will even ask players to take deferred money whenever it might work to help work out a cap crunch.

But do you ever hear fans bitterly complain to sports talk radio shows about how "team X" is not "living up to its contract" with "player Y?" Of course not. So let's not be hypocrites.

What the NFL needs is a bit more "honesty" in the mechanics of how their player contracts operate. Six- or seven-year deals for players in their late 30s routinely happen as a way to spread out a signing bonus for what is essentially a one or two year player "rental." Teams like this because it's like a big ol' NFL player "credit card" where they can make just monthly minimums well into the future instead of paying it off right away.

Even the Eagles admit that T.O.'s deal gets unwieldy in year three, and that they had structured it to look and play like a two-year agreement anyway.

So let's stop jiving each other and the fans, and make deals for what they really are. Get rid of the signing bonus, and guarantee NFL contracts. If you did that, then teams would allocate actual sensible salaries for short to medium range agreements.

We're talking three-year contracts on average for stars, perhaps a little longer for superstars unlikely to get hurt or drop dramatically in performance (i.e. Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, et al.). Everyone else will just have to live with a one- or two-year deal.

That's the relative length of "stability" in the NFL these days anyway. If things don't change after 24 months, something's wrong. The NFL is the most fluid league in terms of coaches, schemes, injuries and free agency.

In a perfect world, the NFL (and all other pro leagues, for that matter) would operate under the dream of former A's owner Charlie Finley. Finley boldly proposed back in the early 1970s the concept of perennial one-year contracts for players.

Naturally, baseball owners shrieked at the thought, and said they needed a mechanism to "protect" their investment in star players. Their choice was arbitration, and just look how fabulous that's been for owners. (Not.)

Don't think a sports world full of entire leagues worth of free agents every off-season is a world you want to be a fan in? Think again. You would never again be stuck for years with an overpaid bum, and the prospects of signing somebody really good in the off-season would exist every year.

Players are human beings, too, and even they don't like to uproot their family and sell their house unless they are forced to. If Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning suddenly became free agents, is it likely that they would end up playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and NY Giants by their own choosing?

I doubt it. Players are smart enough to know what's a good fit for them, and which teams give them a combination of security and opportunity to thrive. Think about this too. Ugly duckling teams like the Saints and Brewers would get their fair share of decent players this way. After all, a player who signs with them can always rest assured that if they don't like it, they can always go somewhere else for more money next year.

For now, though, the deceptive NFL game of prorated signing bonuses and easily voided contracts will continue. The players will bitch and moan, but when the first big checks get cut in early September, virtually none of them will be stupid enough NOT to take them to the bank.