Commentary

No avoiding the hammers for Burress

Originally Published: August 3, 2009
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

It's time for Plaxico Burress to start accepting the reality of his current situation: This will not end well for him.

It was bad enough that he ruined his 2008 NFL season after police arrested him for carrying an unlicensed handgun in November, but now a grand jury has indicted Burress on two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment. If this were a football game, the fans would be filing toward the exits by now. Most of the suspense literally has been sucked out of whatever is left of this story.

Burress must decide what he's going to do. He can either take his chances with a trial or he can plead to the best possible deal his defense can arrange. The smart money says that Burress will take the latter option. There is no way a jury anywhere in this country could hear the facts of this case and decide he is innocent.

That's basically been the issue dogging Burress since this entire matter began, and whatever is left of his football career now hangs in the balance because of his inability to accept that. If Burress could reach some kind of agreement with the Manhattan district attorney's office -- and he faced the grand jury because he already balked at accepting two years in jail -- he could at least begin the process of serving whatever punishment he faces. But if Burress chooses to go to trial, he'd be dragging his football career into an abyss it might never escape. He'd be caught in the legal system while his playing days withered away.

Let's not forget that we're talking about a 31-year-old wide receiver who became a major headache for the New York Giants last season. As much as we've heard talk that some teams were interested in signing him after the Giants released him earlier this offseason, it's just hard to imagine those same franchises chasing him now. Even if Burress did wind up in a trial that didn't start until after this season, there's no way NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would let him anywhere near a field. That's what Burress also seems to not understand: Aside from his lawyers, his family and his friends, there won't be many other people who will see his side in this entire affair.

What Burress also has to understand is that Goodell surely will hammer him once this case is finished. Goodell already has indefinitely suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte' Stallworth for killing a man in Miami during a drunken driving accident. The commissioner also just conditionally reinstated Michael Vick after Vick served a 23-month federal prison sentence for running an illegal dogfighting ring. So by the time Burress enters Goodell's strike zone, the commissioner will be good and ready to deliver his own brand of justice on this matter.

At the very least, Goodell has to throw down an indefinite suspension on Burress. This case has embarrassed the league from the moment Burress walked into the Latin Quarter nightclub on Nov. 29, 2008, and shot himself in the thigh with that unlicensed gun. The humiliation alone is enough for Goodell to send a strong message to any other players who think it's wise to walk around with firearms. The league's personal conduct policy also gives Goodell plenty of latitude; it's quite clear about the fact that players who commit crimes while in possession of firearms face fines and suspensions.

All of this brings us back to the initial point of this column: Burress will gain nothing by dragging this case in front of a jury. If he pursues a trial, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau might set a record for shortest presentation of evidence against a defendant. All Morgenthau has to do is point to the New York City law mandating automatic jail time for people who are caught in possession of firearms not registered in the city. After that, all he has to say is that Burress was carrying a handgun without a New York City license. It really could be that simple.

Everything else that has been brought up in this case -- the possibility that Burress could have hurt somebody else in that nightclub, the role played by Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (who wasn't indicted by the grand jury) or the prominence of guns in our society - doesn't really matter as much as Burress' blatant stupidity. He was dumb to carry that gun around and he's even dumber to think there's a forthcoming solution to his dilemma that will set well with him.

Going forward with a trial makes no sense here. He would be telling the world that he has ignored every bit of the substantial evidence stacked up against him.

That's why it's best for Burress to stop gambling on the possibility that there is some good news coming soon. It wasn't coming when police first arrested him, which led to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's public statement that a pro football player wouldn't receive favoritism in this incident -- and it definitely isn't coming now that he's no longer a New York Giant. His place on the team was the last bit of hope he had because you could imagine the district attorney's office facing some backlash from local fans still fondly remembering Burress' role in the Giants' Super Bowl season two years ago. Now that he's gone, it's hard to see Giants fans caring all that much if the city tries to make an example out of him.

So it's essentially time for Burress to move forward. He needs to consult with his lawyers, figure out what he can live with and brace himself for his punishment. At best, he might get another shot at playing football in the NFL again before he's too old to be a difference-maker. But if Burress chooses to go the other route, he'll just be reminding us of something that we already know: He still can't understand how deep a hole he's already dug for himself.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE