Former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress made headlines this week after being released from a conviction that carried a two-year sentence served in a New York state prison. Burress was once one of the best receivers in the league before accidently shooting himself in the leg while attending a New York nightclub in 2008, which led to his 2009 conviction of criminal gun possession.
Burress told reporters as he headed into jail 21 months ago that he would play football once released, but now that he’s actually free, speculation grows over whether or not he can actually pull off a comeback. Does Plaxico Burress really have what it takes to be a star in the NFL, again? AFRO Sports Desk’s Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley tackle the question:
Green: I don’t know about you, but I would sign Plaxico to a contract in a heartbeat.
You can’t teach someone to be 6-foot-5-inches with hands the size of NBA star Rajon Rondo's (a 6-foot guard with hands the size of a 7-footer). With his physical talent, he’ll instantly return as one of the best jump ball threats in the red zone. He's worth a veteran minimum contract, so why not throw him back out there and see how he does? This is Plaxico Burress we're talking about here; the man responsible for the touchdown that ruined the New England Patriot's shot at a perfect 19-0 season. At worst, he'll generate a news buzz and help sell tickets next season.
Riley: What kind of news buzz will he generate? What will be the headline?
“Ex-con, Jailed for Shooting Himself in the Thigh with His Own Gun Joins Team.” Really? You want to throw a wide receiver, a position known to take crucial hits, back into the fire just months after he's released from serving two years in prison?
No way. This isn't golf or tennis; this is a contact sport for the highly conditioned ballplayer. Even players who take off years in noncontact sports have a difficult time readjusting after a long layoff. Burress is going to sign with a team but I doubt he'll make any impact next season. He's had absolutely no football training in two years.
His risk of injury is going to be off the charts heading into next season.
Green: If Burress doesn’t have an impact next season, some coach just didn’t do his job, because there's no excuse as to why Plax shouldn’t be in tip-top shape. Like you said, the man has been locked away for nearly two years, what else could he do but work out? We saw what the pen did for Michael Vick; he came out not only in excellent physical shape, but a lot more wise and mature than he was pre-jail. And again, the man has hands like GOD. Certainly prison didn’t take his amazing catch ability away. Plaxico has never been fast, or super athletic in how he plays. He simply catches everything thrown at him, and every team in the league can use services like that.
Riley: Tip-top shape and football shape are two different things. It took Vick a complete year after being released from prison to make a serious impact in the league. Sure, Burress will probably be on a team next year but how much impact will he have? That's the question at hand. My answer: none. I'm guessing he'll be good for maybe 20 to 25 catches next year at the most and with the lockout under way, it's going to take him a while to latch onto a team anyway before he can even go through a training camp. Let's say the lockout lasts well into training camp, even the average NFL player would be hurt by that, not to mention a 33-year-old receiver who hasn't played since 2009.
Green: Again, whether Burress makes a great impact next season or not rests in the hands of whoever coaches him. Vick didn’t get much playing time his first year back because Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb was still launching pinpoint bombs down the field. Like Vick, Plax won’t be able to make plays if he's not on the field. Had quarterback Kevin Kolb not been hurt last season with the Philadelphia Eagles, we may have never known that Vick was still that good. And I'm willing to bet the house that Burress still has plenty left to contribute, too, whether this season or next.
And if you don’t believe me, just check history. Former USC star receiver Mike Williams hadn’t played football since 2007. Yet he signed with the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 and helped lead them to the NFL playoffs with a career-high 65 catches, including three touchdowns scored in the postseason. If a once out-of-shape NFL reject like Williams can come back and kill, what makes you think a former Super Bowl star like Plax won't shine?
Riley: You’re setting the bar way too high for a guy to just arrive out of prison and dominate the gridiron. It’s almost disrespectful in a sense to the other great players around the league. You’re expecting him to go to a team, beat out the competition that’s already there, then start roasting cornerbacks who have also been playing for the last two seasons as well. It’s a tall order you’re placing on him.
Mike Williams was a great story but history also suggests guys don’t just rip up the league fresh out of incarceration. Look at former Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis, who only served four months during the 2005 offseason and proceeded to have his second worse campaign as a pro (counting his last season in 2009) during the prime of his career. Lewis was a guy in his mid-20s who was only two years removed from a 2,000-yard season and finished with a paltry 906 yards and a 3.4 yards-per-carry average as a featured runner. If you really expect Burress to go crazy next year, then maybe you should apply for coaching or management job with the Raiders or Browns. I’m sure they’d love to have you aboard with that kind of innovative thinking.