Barking Up Wrong Tree

home again. But the Eagles held tough, and he never got his way. They didn't trade their problem. They didn't release their problem. They just suspended him, and then basically fired him with pay those final seven weeks. 

Sure, Owens eventually got out, and that's why he is here, but he didn't get his way last year, at least financially, because in the NFL, the players rarely, if ever hold the cards. They can withhold services if they have the stomach to also see pay withheld. But that rarely, if ever works if the player still is under contract. 

That then is Ellis' dilemma. He is under contract, and for four more seasons, and I certainly understand his pain. His argument about being a guinea pig is a solid one. If he fails in this unique role Parcells envisions for him, and then the club decides to release him, which the Joneses say they have no intention to, he won't have much bargaining power in free agency. Especially for a guy who is entering his ninth season, is about to turn 31, is not starting and is playing only like 50 percent of the plays, as Parcells sort of outlined on Sunday. 

"I'm the guinea pig, and if you do research on what happens to guinea pigs, if the experiment with the guinea pig doesn't work, they die," Ellis said with a very clever and meaningful analogy. "Then they just go get another guinea pig and start new experiments." 

Hard to argue with him, and there is nothing worse for a man than having to dicker for money he thinks he rightfully deserves. 

But there is one problem with Ellis' protest - not participating in the off-season workouts (voluntary) and this week's OTA's (voluntary) - and he knows it: 

"The ball is in their court," Ellis said, somewhat facing his long odds. 

Not only in the Cowboys' court, but it's their, ball, too. 

Jones seems willing to let Ellis stew. And maybe because of his eight years of production and loyalty to the organization, and being the guy he is, Jones is willing to ride this out until Ellis misses something mandatory. And as far as I can see, the first deadline would be reporting to training camp by the prescribed time on July 27. Then being there for the conditioning run, likely on the 28th. Then being there for the first practice on the 29th. And so on. 

"This isn't mandatory," Jones said of the OTA's on Tuesday. 

But those others are, so the Cowboys would have the right under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to start assessing fines for absences. They also would have the right to place a missing player on reserve/did not report, which would relieve them of any financial responsibilities once they start playing real games, which is when players start collecting their base pay. 

A no-win situation for the player, with the only hope his absence creates a noticeable enough competitive void the team cries monkey, and gives in to contractual demands. Sort of the way the Cowboys eventually did in 1993 with a missing Emmitt Smith after the defending Super Bowl champs got off to that 0-2 start. 

Big difference there, though? Smith wasn't under contract. Ellis in. 

And Jones knows full-well that if he concedes to Ellis, then, well, here comes Jason Witten, who could be playing on the final year of his contract if no extension is reached, and who wants to risk that? Then here comes Flozell Adams, who realizes he's entering the fourth year of a five-year deal, and probably would like some guarantees in that fifth year if he doesn't fully recover from the knee surgery this year. And here comes Bradie James, who is in the same boat as Witten. And here comes Anthony Henry, worried he never gets the $1 million roster bonus in 2008. And here would have come La'Roi Glover last year, realizing once he was removed from the starting lineup late last season the chances of picking up this year's $1.5 million roster bonus heading into his final season of his five-year deal was remote, as it turned out to be. Same with Larry Allen. 

Owners have to hold the line on this matter for not only the good of the team, but the good of the league. Otherwise, there would be anarchy. 

That is why, don't you know there were 31 owners last year holding their breath the Eagles wouldn't cave in to Owens, but

MICK SHOTS

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