Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens could miss out on free agency because he failed to file papers voiding the final two years of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Owens was supposed to be one of the top players available this offseason. Another wide receiver, Dennis Northcutt, made the same mistake and might be forced to remain with the Cleveland Browns.
The NFL Management Council informed the teams Thursday.
The 49ers also released running back Garrison Hearst, the 2001 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and tackle Derrick Deese.
In other NFL news Thursday, 1987 No. 1 overall draft pick Vinny Testaverde seemed on the verge of retiring at age 40.
Testaverde, a Heisman Trophy winner, spent six seasons with the New York Jets, but was primarily the backup quarterback to Chad Pennington the last two.
Also, the agent for Washington Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said he had ''substantive discussions'' on a new contract that would send the cornerback to the Denver Broncos and is awaiting a written proposal from the team.
And in Atlanta, Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis pleaded innocent to federal drug charges he tried to help a childhood friend buy cocaine in the summer of 2000. He was released on $500,000 bond after a 15-minute court hearing.
Owens seemed headed for the open market when the 49ers designated linebacker Julian Peterson as their franchise player Monday. But to become a free agent, Owens or agent David Joseph was required to file papers by Feb. 21 voiding his current deal.
Joseph said he will contest the ruling. He said the mistake was made because the league moved up the deadlines 10 days for players whose contracts were signed before the extension of the collective bargaining agreement took effect in 2001.
''We voided the contract. There's an issue now as to whether or not the void was effective,'' Joseph said.
The same thing happened with Northcutt, who failed to meet a Feb. 19 deadline. The Browns said they had not received the required registered letter from him or agent Jerome Stanley.
Northcutt, who led Cleveland with 62 catches for 729 yards last season, was due to be a free agent if he voided the final three years of a seven-year contract signed in 2000.
The 49ers were willing to let Owens go even though he has been one of the league's best receivers for the past half-decade. Last season was a down one by his high standards and he still had 80 catches for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns.
But Owens had run-ins with both his head coaches with the 49ers: Steve Mariucci (now in Detroit) and Dennis Erickson. Owens also alienated opponents and league officials with celebratory stunts, including dancing on the star at midfield after scoring in Dallas, and pulling out a pen to sign a ball after scoring a touchdown during a Monday night game in Seattle.
Hearst, an 11-year veteran, rushed for 2,946 yards over the past three seasons. But he injured his knee and lost his starting job late last season to Kevan Barlow, who led the 49ers with 1,024 yards rushing. After the 49ers signed Barlow to a five-year contract extension worth $20 million, Hearst requested his release.
On Thursday, he got it. So did Deese, the longest-serving member of the 49ers. He played all five positions on the offensive line since signing as an undrafted free agent in 1992. He has been a starter since 1996, including the last four seasons at left tackle.
Testaverde said in a statement issued by the Jets that he would not participate in the team's offseason workouts ''in an effort to figure out what is best for my family myself and the New York Jets.''
''I am considering, unless something changes, bringing an end to my professional playing career,'' he said.
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