We knew this discussion would take place at some point.
No, I’m not talking about Eli Manning’s successor or the replacement for Tom Coughlin. I’m referring to the prospect of bringing back one of the most fascinating players in New York Giants history—a special athlete that enticed fans with his skill and frustrated coaches with his attitude.
His highlights with the Giants varied from game-winning Super Bowl catches to a quasi-holdout and multiple suspensions. He helped a young, talented and erratic quarterback develop by drawing double coverage routinely and hauling in sensational catches with ease. But he also stunted this same quarterback’s growth by constantly showing him up on the field and occasionally running lazy routes that resulted in interceptions.
Needless to say, Plaxico Burress sparked all sorts of emotions for the fans and media alike. Even his arrival was drama-laden, a back-and-forth of sorts that at one point prompted the former Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi to declare that, “The New York Giants are no longer interested in free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress and have withdrawn their offer,” on March 10th of 2005.
Eight days later, Plaxico Burress was holding up his No. 17 royal blue jersey and immediately became perhaps the biggest threat the Giants have ever had at receiver. His imposing size, coupled with his tantalizing skillset, produced nightmares for defensive coordinators. And despite his underachieving status with the Pittsburgh Steelers, his talents could not be denied.
Burress’ roller coaster tenure of four seasons culminated with his release from the team following the infamous gunshot wound in his thigh. After the disappointing playoff loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, Jerry Reese left the door open for a potential Burress return if all went well with his sentencing, saying, "if everything goes all right, yeah. Absolutely.”
As fate would have it, everything didn’t go all right. Burress would be sentenced to two years in prison, beginning his term September 23, 2009. According to multiple reports, Burress’ release will be June 6th, giving him three months to gain back the weight he lost in prison, which, according to Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, made him look like the player at Michigan State, Burress’ alma matter. He also would have to shake off the rust in his route running as well as get back into football shape.
Another factor working against Burress is he will turn 34 in August. Michael Vick, whose re-emergence has been cited as a reason for hope for Plaxico, was 28 when he left prison. Those six years might as well be 60 in terms of football years.
Nonetheless, defensive captain Justin Tuck has strongly advocated for Burress’s return.
“Whether he's here, or wherever he comes back, he's gonna come back with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove a point,” Tuck explained, “So, as a defensive player, I would much rather that guy be on our team than not. And plus, he's a difference-maker. I would love to see him back."
Tuck’s enthusiasm for bringing back Burress has reportedly been matched by those within the Giants organization, according to Steve Serby of the New York Post. Tisch is very close to Burress, even visiting him in prison on at least one occasion. And Reese, based on his past statements, remains enamored with Burress’s physical ability.
But it’s time for the Giants to officially move on from Burress. Yes, the Giants never missed the playoffs with Burress in New York and have yet to make it since his departure. But in 2009 and 2010, I don’t believe there is any direct correlation. Burress being locked in a prison cell didn’t provoke Flozell Adams to trip Justin Tuck and effectively ruin his season, nor did it cause Matt Dodge to punt the ball to DeSean Jackson.
Personally, I think Burress’ constant off-the-field antics were starting to weigh on the organization as a whole. And although his lack of availability down the stretch in 2008 killed the Giants, it allowed for the drafting of Hakeem Nicks, a humble and extremely talented receiver in his own right. It also gave Steve Smith an opportunity to become the Pro Bowl-caliber receiver he is today, as long as he recovers from the knee injury he suffered against the Vikings.
Mario Manningham has proven to be an explosive target in the slot, as well as capable of stepping in for both Nicks and Smith when need be. In 2009, he was incredibly inconsistent with his route running among other things, but this year, he made some tremendous strides. He did continue to make mental errors, but his improvement is a positive sign for the Giants.
Going forward, this trio of targets could prove to be one of the league’s best. They are still young and have a ways to go but have unique skill sets that pose problems for opposing defenses. And with talents—albeit unproven—such as Ramses Barden, Victor Cruz, as well as Domenik Hixon and Derek Hagan lurking, where would Plax fit on the team?
His comeback would be a circus, and his impact would likely be minimal. I know it’s tempting to bring back a receiver only four years removed from being a Super Bowl hero, but the Giants must resist.
For the record, I think Burress’ most likely destination is in New York, but instead to the team that wears green. The Jets will be unable to keep both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, both pending free agents, and will likely opt to keep Holmes. Burress and Edwards possess similar abilities, although Burress in his prime was much more refined. Rex Ryan had to game plan for Burress when Rex was in Baltimore and Burress was in Pittsburgh, so he knows what Plaxico brings to the table.
Even though the Jets would probably be getting a shell of the former Giants star, I would not be surprised one bit of they take a chance with him.
What a story that would be.
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