SAN ANTONIO - Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the decision to bring Terrell Owens back for a return engagement was actually no decision at all.
"There never was a question that he'd be back," Jones said. "I know him better than I did at this time last year. And I'm every bit as happy to have him this year as I was last year."
Despite playing much of the year with an injured right ring finger, Owens caught 85 passes for 1,180 yards and an NFL-high 13 touchdowns.
"I interviewed 11 coaches for the head-coaching position, and every one of them said, 'We are going to keep Terrell, aren't we?' " said Jones, who gave Owens a $3 million roster bonus in June that also guaranteed his $5 million salary for this season.
Owens' second training camp with the Cowboys is getting off to a much better start than his first one. Last summer, he injured a hamstring early in camp and spent more time on a stationary bike than the field.
No problems after 2 days of practice inside the Alamodome this year. His ring finger seems as good as new after two offseason surgeries to repair a tendon. At the Cowboys' first practice on Wednesday, he beat cornerback Anthony Henry for a 60-yard completion.
"I'm feeling good and looking good, so I ought to be playing good," Owens said. "I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with my trainer this summer, which I wasn't able to do last year before I came to camp. I lifted weights. I ate well. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to have a great season."
Owens said he played pretty well last season "for having 1 1/2 hands." But he said his injured finger wasn't the only reason for his league-high 17 drops. He acknowledged that, for whatever reason, he had occasional lapses in concentration.
"I can't fault anybody for that but myself," Owens said. "I can't put my finger on why it happened. I just know it wasn't there."
Said Jones: "I think he's a lot more comfortable now. Last year, he was dealing with the pulled ham right out of the gate and was getting flak for that. He's had a year to work with Tony [Romo]. He knows we're going to try to utilize his skills every chance we can. He knows that, likes that."
Last year, coach Bill Parcells didn't seem very enthusiastic about having Owens around. He seldom talked to him and never referred to him by name in news conferences, calling him "the player."
So far, Parcells' replacement, Wade Phillips, is getting along fine with Owens.
"I never had a problem with a player, really," Phillips said. "I expect the same with him."
Jones insisted that Parcells never voiced an objection to signing Owens last season.
"There never was an issue about whether we should bring him here," he said. "People asked whether Bill was on board with having Terrell here. Absolutely he was."
That's not exactly what Parcells is saying. In May, he told the New York Daily News that signing Owens "was not my decision. I had to do the best I could with him, which is what I tried to do."
Owens said he just wants to have a happy season, which, presumably, is one without an accidental drug overdose/suicide attempt.
"I just want to go out and have fun playing football," he said. "If you are having fun playing football, then you're going to be happy. There are going to be days when you're not going to be as happy as others. But hopefully there won't be a lot of them." *