Former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress is scheduled for release from prison in June, and already there's a debate within the Giants' organization over what, if anything, to do with him. They had him once, and they could have him again -- provided, of course, they're interested.
They should be. They were better with Burress before, and they could be better with him again.
|Burress caused the Giants plenty of trouble but also helped them win big. (US Presswire)|
But that was when Burress was embroiled in legal travails, when he wasn't sure what would happen next. Now he is, with a June 6 date scheduled for a conditional release. Then, it's up to NFL clubs to bid on the guy, and the Giants should be first in line.
I know, I know, they're a club that won't tolerate public embarrassments, and coach Tom Coughlin had his problems with Burress before Burress had his problems with the law. But two years can change things, and I offer Michael Vick as Exhibit A.
There were clubs -- and plenty of them -- that wouldn't touch Vick when he was released from prison a) because he was a public-relations nightmare, b) because it could enrage their fan bases and c) because nobody was sure what he had to offer after two years behind bars.
It turns out he had plenty. More important, it turns out that Vick was reformed from the young man who ran a dog-fighting operation. People within the Eagles' organization tell me he seems genuinely remorseful for what happened, doesn't waste an opportunity to pass the message on to fans -- particularly schoolchildren -- and is a strong and persuasive voice of moderation in the locker room, sometimes pulling errant teammates aside to straighten them out.
"The most important thing about making mistakes," Vick once said in an interview with Essence.com, "is to learn from them and turn things around."
Look, I don't care what you think of Michael Vick or how abhorrent you found his actions. What I do care about is that he paid for his stupidity, served his time and was punished for his crime. The same goes for Burress, and I don't see why the result can't be the same for him as it was for Vick.
What I do know is that it's worth finding out, and take the hint, New York.
The Giants released Burress after he became a distraction to the organization and a headache to the head coach, so they would have to resolve those issues all over again. But I don't worry about Burress being a distraction. As I said, there's something about spending two years behind bars that affects someone given a second chance.
Dealing with Coughlin is another matter, and this is where it could get tricky. Coughlin wasn't amused by Burress' off-the-field antics when he was around, and he may view him as a risk not worth assuming -- especially after he, his team and the organization have moved on.
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"I can't see this happening without Tom signing off on it," said one source close to the organization. "And I don't know where he stands."
Neither do I. Burress was a fine waiting to happen while he was with the Giants, with the talented wide receiver in four seasons drawing more than 30 penalties for assorted misbehavior and hundreds of thousands of dollars in team and league charges. That, of course, was prior to his November, 2008, arrest on a gun charge, with the Giants suspending him for the remainder of the season.
Burress could be a pain in the keister, and I understand Coughlin's frustration and exasperation. But he could also be a game changer, and let the record show that the Giants were 11-1 in 2008 when they suspended him. Let it also show they were 1-4 afterward, including the playoffs, and are 19-18 in two seasons without him.
When Burress bowed out of the lineup, coaches throughout the league predicted his loss would damage the Giants' offense, and not only in the passing game. The rushing attack would suffer, too, they said, because defenses no longer would commit safeties to double covering Burress -- moving them, instead, closer to the line of scrimmage to defend the run.
They were right. Without Burress the league's top-ranked rushing attack swooned over its last five starts, fizzling in all but an overtime win over Carolina where the Giants ran for a season-high 301 yards. Twice they were beaten by Philadelphia, including a 23-11 loss in the playoffs, and only once outside of the Carolina game did they score rushing.
Before Burress was suspended, the Giants averaged 29.3 points a game. Afterward, they dropped to 17.2, and don't tell me Burress' absence didn't have something to do with that because it did. The Giants didn't have a reliable deep threat, someone to stretch the field, so imagine what impact he'd have now on a team with Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.
Of course, Burress turns 34 this summer, so I don't know what he has left. Remember, he hasn't played football since November, 2008, though Vick missed nearly as much time when he was released in 2009. But Vick was 29 then, and the Eagles barely played him in his first season back -- basically running him on the field for 5-10 plays a game.
That wouldn't be the case with Burress, but I'd like to know what would. That's why the Giants should be interested. He was one of the game's best Red Zone threats once, and the Giants could use that threat again. Plus, the club wants Eli Manning to be a better quarterback -- someone who doesn't make as many mistakes as he did a year ago when he led the league in interceptions -- and I can't think of a better way than by giving him another talented receiver.
Only Plaxico Burress is not just another option. He's the receiver Manning trusted most while he was here.
It's not an easy decision, and it's one I suspect that Coughlin must make. If he's convinced he can't spend another season with Burress, the conversation is over and Burress is out. But if he thinks that maybe, just maybe, Burress can change ... that he can abide by team rules and rein in his behavior ... then it's worth taking a chance.
All I know is that when Plaxico Burress was in the lineup the Giants won a Super Bowl. Without him, they haven't won a playoff game. Draw your own conclusions.