Ah, yes, that Philadelphia Phillies ball cap Plaxico Burress wore when he walked out of prison Monday was all conspiracy theorists needed to determine where Burress plays next. I mean, he and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick are friends. Vick has said Burress would be a good fit for the Eagles. And Vick's redemption after his own two years in prison is supposed to be the perfect template for Burress.
So, Burress-to-Philadelphia is too perfect not to happen, right? Not so fast. The last time I heard about a player following his head was when LeBron James was supposed to be headed to the New York Knicks because ... well, because he kept wearing a New York Yankees hat.
So much for detective work.
It never happened, and I'd be surprised if anything becomes of this Burress-to-Philadelphia rumor, too. That doesn't mean it's impossible. It just means the odds are against it, and talking to GMs and coaches throughout the league tells me why for three reasons: 1) age, 2) skills and 3) money.
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What's the market look like for Burress? Not great. Read >>
Let me explain. Plaxico Burress is not Michael Vick, though both rely on their legs. Vick was 28 when he left prison. Burress turns 34 in August. Vick was in the prime of his career. Burress is not, with two GMs telling me his skills were deteriorating in 2008, his last season in the pros, before he accidentally shot himself in the leg and put his career on hold.
"I would really need to see him work," one GM said. "At his age, there's going to be a lot of rust, if you know what I mean. I don't know how much running he was able to accomplish the last two years."
Neither do I. But I do know it took Michael Vick one season to become productive again. When he returned to the NFL in 2009 he did not have the speed, the burst or the explosion that made him such an effective threat in Atlanta. That was apparent in the preseason that year, and it was apparent when he played -- albeit sparingly -- that season. It was almost as if his legs could not respond to what his mind was telling them, with Vick sometimes stumbling as he moved forward.
Vick was so underwhelming that when the Eagles traded away Donovan McNabb last year, it wasn't Vick but Kevin Kolb whom coach Andy Reid named as McNabb's successor. The move was expected, partly because Kolb looked so good when he played and partly because Vick did not.
Of course, all that changed in the opener when Vick relieved the injured Kolb and played as he did in 2004 when he led the Falcons to the NFC championship game. Anyway, the point is that it took Vick considerable time and a complete offseason of work to be what he'd been before.
"You're going to have to ease Plaxico Burress into the picture," one head coach said. "The thing with Vick didn't happen overnight. It wasn't a natural, year-long process because he simply wasn't ready to play. So whoever signs this guy will have to work him in slowly. I keep hearing that Plaxico can jump right in with his next team, but you don't know how hard that is to do."
One GM I consulted does.
"With Michael Vick, the legs were part of his game," he said. "With Plaxico Burress, his legs are everything, and he's been away a while. It takes awhile for those quick-twitch muscles to respond -- especially at his age."
Curiously, more than one team's interest in Burress isn't based as much on his ability as what might have happened during his incarceration -- and, I know, that demands an explanation. Even though clubs I contacted agreed he's not the player he was in 2007, when he led the Giants in catches and made the winning catch in Super Bowl XLII, most said they were interested in what impact prison had on him -- basically, wondering if it humbled him and made him less of, well, a character concern.
"He needed some degree of humility," said an AFC general manager, "and I'd like to see if he got it. I know it doesn't sound reasonable, but the Plaxico Burress who went into prison I had no interest in; the Plaxico Buress that comes out … maybe."
But it's not just character that's an issue. There's the age, too. Burress is not a young man by NFL standards. Plus, there are those eroding abilities that scouts and personnel directors noticed. There were only two receivers 34 or older who last season ranked among the NFL's top 35 -- Cincinnati's Terrell Owens (37) and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez (34) -- yet both are known for superlative off-the-field conditioning.
Burress hasn't played since November, 2008 and hasn't done much of anything the past 20 months, so nobody knows what kind of shape he's in. Moreover, what they do know is that he hasn't taken a hit, run a route or caught a pass in nearly three years. Tell me the layoff won't have an impact because we all know that it will.
Which brings me to the last point: Money. I could see Philadelphia making a play if Burress priced himself cheaply, but based on what his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is saying, I don't know that that happens. Neither do others, and financial demands could drive the market down.
"With Michael Vick," said one GM, "he was at an age where he was looking at a first and second contract. With Plaxico, you're looking at one, and it may be tough the way they [he and Rosenhaus] are talking."
What Rosenhaus is saying is that there are "many" teams interested in the guy and that Burress will be "a top free agent" when the NFL goes back to work. If he's accurate, that will scare off some potential suitors, including Philadelphia. Remember, the Eagles have been down this road with Rosenhaus and another veteran wide receiver, Terrell Owens, and that didn't turn out so well. So I don't know why they would try it again, especially considering their depth at a position where they have DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
"I expect he wants to recoup the money he lost [while he was away]," said one NFC general manager. "I don't know who's going to do that. If you ask me, they're going to have trouble getting the money they expect."
For that reason alone, I'd minimize his chances of going to Philadelphia. I don't care how close Burress and Vick are. The Eagles don't need another high-priced wide receiver, and they especially don't need one who is 34 and hasn't played a down for almost three years.
But one high-profile agent told me he doesn't expect Burress to field anything more than a minimum salary ... either that or an incentive-laden deal based on productivity. And if that's the case, maybe, just maybe the Eagles are back in play, more out of curiosity than anything else.
For now, they're not. Call me skeptical, but I'm not sure they ever will be.