Commentary

Final curtain for the 'diva' receiver?

With the demise of Plaxico Burress, the high-maintenance WRs' reign might be ending

Originally Published: August 20, 2008
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

There really isn't much left to be said about the case of former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. He did the right thing by pleading guilty Thursday to a weapons charge, and he now faces a two-year prison sentence. However, there is a larger point to be made about the position he played in the NFL.

The more you look at the league, the less you see diva receivers cut from the same mold as Burress.

The one thing that is becoming quite clear about this year is that it hasn't been a good one for high-maintenance wideouts. Along with Burress, a number of familiar names have had to face their own humbling experiences.

The Dallas Cowboys released Terrell Owens. Cincinnati Bengals star Chad Ochocinco caught plenty of criticism after producing his worst season since his first Pro Bowl. You also can't forget about Denver Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall, who's currently feuding with a franchise that is reluctant to give a pay raise to a player with so many off-the-field problems.

Granted, all these players have had their own separate issues to deal with lately. But what's worth noting is that diva receivers are becoming far more expendable for some teams and certainly less attractive to others.

Just look at what's been happening to third-year receiver Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City. New head coach Todd Haley demoted him to the third string just to let his star player know that an improved work ethic should be part of Bowe's game this coming season.

Burress defined a certain type of receiver that just isn't in heavy demand any more. The days when brash personalities such as Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson defined the position have given way to an era dominated by strong, silent types. That doesn't mean there still isn't a place in the game for a high-maintenance player with incredible talent. It just means that such a receiver had better have otherworldly ability in order to warrant such an investment from a team.

Burress is the perfect example. After helping the Giants win a Super Bowl, he became a major headache for only one apparent reason -- he didn't like playing by the rules set down by head coach Tom Coughlin. Burress earned fines and suspensions and still carried himself like an untouchable long before he ran afoul of the law. He acted as if he didn't care what happened to him, even when it was becoming clear he was digging a huge hole for himself with his actions.

Burress became so big in his own mind that he couldn't grasp the concept of boundaries anymore. It's the same kind of arrogance that landed Michael Vick in federal prison for running an illegal dogfighting ring. At some point, Burress started thinking he could do whatever he wanted with the Giants. And that same attitude probably made him think he could overcome violating New York's gun laws when he shot himself in a New York nightclub in November 2008.

Now it would be easy to say that other players, especially high-maintenance receivers, should learn a valuable lesson from Burress' behavior with the Giants and in public. But there are simply fewer elite receivers who are capable of causing the controversy that Burress produced.

The game's top wideout is Larry Fitzgerald. Compared to the likes of Burress and other receivers previously mentioned, Fitzgerald has given few reasons to question his character. Much the same can be said of Fitzgerald's peers -- people like Houston's Andre Johnson, Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne and Fitzgerald's teammate Anquan Boldin.

Just as noteworthy is the fact that other high-maintenance receivers have matured. Randy Moss has become a team leader in New England. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Antonio Bryant went from being unemployed in 2008 to signing a one-year, $9.88 million contract as the Bucs' franchise free agent this offseason, mainly because he became more productive and less toxic. Even though there are some exceptions -- Carolina Panthers star Steve Smith reminded us of his epic temper when he sucker-punched teammate Ken Lucas last summer -- there just aren't many older receivers who fall into the category of major distraction.

It's easy to see why fewer receivers are causing headaches: These days, teams probably aren't willing to invest as much guaranteed money in potential problems. Overall, the environment around the league has become more cautious now that commissioner Roger Goodell hammers anybody who runs the risk of embarrassing the brand. You also have to assume the obvious: More receivers know how to carry themselves as professionals.

By the way, this is a good thing. Even though these kinds of receivers always keep things interesting, there comes a point when a line gets crossed. Just look at Ochocinco. He used to be both entertaining and incredibly productive. Now that he's gone a full season without demonstrating either quality, he's just another guy who's trying to remind us of what he still can do.

Unfortunately for Burress, he probably won't get that chance to redeem himself. The best-case scenario is that he's out of jail by the spring of 2011, but he'll also be approaching 34 by then. That means his decision to plead guilty likely marked the end of his NFL career. It also did something else: It made us realize the era of diva receivers might be over as well.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.