Commentary

Plaxi-Go or Plaxi-No for G-Men?

Now that the big man is free, some Big Blue teammates want him back

Updated: June 7, 2011, 9:40 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

If Michael Strahan were running the New York Giants, he knows what his first order of business would be on Monday if there were no lockout.

Strahan, the TV analyst and former Giants defensive end star, would start the process of recruiting Plaxico Burress.

"He'd be a Giant on a private plane back here," Strahan said.

Burress walked out of Oneida Correctional Facility a free man on Monday. But, of course, the Giants, like all other teams, cannot contact him until the lockout ends and free agency begins.

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
AP Photo/Heather AinsworthUpon being released from prison, Plaxico Burress caught agent Drew Rosenhaus. Now they'll make sure Plax catches on with an NFL team.

It remains to be seen how interested the Giants will be in a reunion with the wide receiver who accidentally shot himself in the leg in 2008 and shredded the Giants' Super Bowl dreams in the process.

But for months, several of Burress' former teammates have been making their pitches -- in some cases passionate pleas -- for management to give the 6-foot-5 receiver another chance.

Brandon Jacobs, one of Burress' best friends, said last week that the receiver wants a fresh start and has his eyes on the possibility of joining Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to Jacobs, Burress has nothing against his old team but "there is no chance Plaxico Burress is a New York Giant after he comes home."

"I would hate to see him go to where I think he is going to go, that is from talking to him," Jacobs said on Thursday. "Plax is a Virginia guy, Vick is a Virginia guy. They went through sort of the same things and they got a lot of dynamic players down there. It wouldn't be a bad thing, he thinks, to go down there. He wants to win."

On the day of his release, here's a look at some reasons why Burress makes sense for the Giants -- and some reasons why they might say no thanks.

WHY THIS SHOULD BE A PLAXI-GO

Vick represents one reason why so many Giants want to see Burress remain a Giant. They've witnessed Vick's dramatic comeback from prisoner to Pro Bowler, and how he's turned his life around almost as quickly as he can change directions on the field.

Many Giants who have visited Burress in prison often talk about how the receiver has matured and seems like a new man.

"One of the greatest things for Plaxico was Michael Vick," Strahan said. "[Vick] showed you can make a mistake, spend some time away and come back and make the most of it."

Burress will turn 34 in August and has been away from the game since November 2008. It remains to be seen just how much he has left.

But as they say in the NBA: You can't teach size. He's still 6-5 and as long as the George Washington Bridge. His 11-catch performance in arctic conditions in the '08 NFC Championship Game at Green Bay is practically legendary. And teammates remember how he played through injuries and pain and often produced on game day, including his game-winning touchdown catch against the Patriots that year in the Super Bowl.

Most defensive players who want Burress back often talk about how opposing defenses had to deal with the former Giants receiver.

"I was campaigning before the lockout started," defensive end Justin Tuck said of trying to convince management to re-sign Burress. "You had to take a safety out of the box [against him]. With our O-line and our running game, that opens up a lot of stuff. I'm excited. I hope we can get No. 17 back to Giants Stadium."

Before Burress' gun went off in a Manhattan nightclub on Nov. 28, 2008, the Giants were 10-1. Without Burress, the Giants finished 2-3 and lost to Philadelphia in the playoffs.

They haven't made the postseason since, finishing a combined 18-14 the last two seasons.

"If you look at our team before, when Plaxico was in, if you look after he's gone, even though we have had some success and even though we have played pretty well, it just hasn't been the same without him," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said on "Jim Rome Is Burning" in February.

Like most of the Giants who have visited Burress in prison, Umenyiora reported that Burress appeared to be in great shape.

"He looks great," Umenyiora said. "He is lean; he is in good shape. He's focused and he seems happy. I just can't wait for him to come out, and I think he is going to have a great impact a la Michael Vick."

With the lockout virtually wiping out the offseason workout programs, teams stocked with veteran players who are already familiar with the playbook will be at an advantage. The Giants are poised to handle the lockout well since the coaching staff remains intact and numerous veterans are returning.

Burress' transition back to the Giants wouldn't be so hard since many players say Burress is still familiar with the offensive system and already has relationships with teammates. If he were to join another team like the Eagles, Burress would have to learn a new offense, adjust to new players and a new quarterback.

"I would think it is somewhere he would be comfortable; he knows everybody and he knows the system," said Tuck, who also is close to Burress. "He had great chemistry with Eli, and he has a lot of friends on this team and a team that wants him here."

"I can't speak for Plaxico," Tuck added. "He has a mind of his own and he knows what he wants to do. Coming from the captain of the New York Giants, I would love to have Plaxico back here in Giants blue."

WHY THIS SHOULD BE A PLAXI-NO

Much like in a painful breakup, it's easy to remember all the great memories.

But there are some who can't forget that Burress shot the Giants' title hopes away in 2008. They appeared to be on their way to a second straight Super Bowl and then everything fell apart.

Even prior to the incident, Burress gave coach Tom Coughlin a few headaches. The receiver was reportedly fined dozens of times for violating team rules.

Many wonder whether Giants ownership, Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese would want to produce a Plaxico sequel.

"I guess he and Coach butted heads, but Coach Coughlin has a strong personality and so does Plaxico," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "So sometimes they probably didn't see eye-to-eye, but it worked pretty well in that run to Arizona [to the Super Bowl in 2008]. It worked out well for us, so obviously they got on the same page somewhat."

"Hopefully [Coughlin] will get a chance to sit down and talk to him and see the maturity that has happened over the past couple of years," Cofield added. "And hopefully [Burress] is humble with it because Coughlin is our coach. Plaxico was big for us. I would love to have him back."

While Coughlin said he's happy for Burress and his family about his release, the head coach insists there hasn't been much discussion internally about the possibility of Burress' return to New York. Reese said the same thing but did add that he will contact Burress once he is allowed to.

"Plaxico has got his own issues that he is dealing with," one of Burress' former teammates said. "I don't know, I think there are a lot of variables that are still out there [for a return]. Obviously, he is a talented wide receiver and he showed that to us numerous times, and I am sure he is going to come out wanting to prove to everybody that he wants to play again.

"If anything, Eli has played better since then because he didn't have Plaxico to rely on; he has had to find other ways to improve his passing game."

Without his 6-5 blanket, Manning has passed for over 4,000 yards and 27 or more touchdowns in each of the last two years. Prior to that, he hadn't passed for more than 3,762 yards and 24 touchdowns in a season. Manning, though, did throw 25 interceptions last season.

Reese has provided Manning with several weapons. Hakeem Nicks, drafted in 2009 after the Burress incident, is on the verge of becoming a star entering his third season. Steve Smith was a Pro Bowl receiver in 2009, the season after Burress' departure, and Mario Manningham is a playmaking third receiver.

However, the Giants' receiving corps is banged up. Smith is coming off microfracture surgery on his knee. Ramses Barden (ankle) and Domenik Hixon (knee) are also coming off surgeries.

Burress may be as healthy as he has ever been, but clearly he will be coming off a long layoff. How much does he have left?

And how would he fit in with the Giants? Would he upset the dynamic they have now with their young receivers and possibly stunt the growth of Nicks, Smith, Manningham and Barden?

"He is a talented player; I think he had a great connection with Eli, a comfort level, a blanket," Strahan argues. "Nicks was phenomenal [last] year in filling that void, as well as Steve Smith and all those guys. But I believe Plaxico is a special type player [who] made a mistake."

If Burress comes back to the Giants, he could be a distraction.

But if he goes to another team, namely the Eagles, he will become the kind of distraction that Tuck and Umenyiora are hoping not to see.

The kind that beats the Giants' defense.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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