From jail to Jets, Burress finds a new NFL home

Posted July 31, 2011, at 6:06 p.m.
Last modified July 31, 2011, at 8:54 p.m.

NEW YORK — Stuck in prison and his NFL career derailed, Plaxico Burress insisted he’d be back one day.

Rex Ryan and the New York Jets are giving him that second chance.

The former Super Bowl star with the Giants, recently released from prison after serving 20 months on a gun charge, reached an agreement in principle Sunday on a one-year deal with the Jets.

Burress, who turns 34 on Aug. 12, caught the game-winning touchdown in the Giants’ upset of the unbeaten New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, before his career derailed after he accidentally shot himself in a New York nightclub later that year.

Now, the Jets are hoping Burress can revive his career the way Michael Vick did with the Eagles. Vick served 18 months in prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring before returning to football in 2009. He was eased back into things by the Eagles before taking over as the starting quarterback last year and capping a terrific season by being selected as the AP’s Comeback Player of t he Year.

Burress has a chance to make even more of an immediate impact for the Jets. New York was interested in Burress a few years ago before he went to prison. Now, he’ll likely join the recently re-signed Santonio Holmes as one of Mark Sanchez’s top receivers.

Burress wrote on his Twitter page: “East Coast here I come!” Sanchez retweeted his new receiver and added: “Paperwork in hand??? Haha welcome to the squad.”

ESPN first reported the deal, saying it is for more than $3 million fully guaranteed. Burress was in Los Angeles on his way to a meeting with the San Francisco 49ers, ESPN reported, but canceled that trip when the Jets contacted him.

A few hours after announcing the agreement, the Jets were accepting pre-orders for replica Burress jerseys for $80 on their website. Matt Higgins, the Jets’ executive vice president of business operations, tweeted that Burress would be wearing No. 17 — Braylon Edwards’ number the last two seasons.

Burress met with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he spent his first five seasons, on Saturday after sitting down with Giants coach Tom Coughlin on Friday. On Sunday, Coughlin said his conversation with Burress was “very good” and “very sincere.”

“His decision was to go elsewhere,” he added. “It sounded like a bigger guarantee. I don’t know all of the facts about that. That’s what happens in this business. His decision was made and, again, we wish he and his family well.”

Burress mentioned he would be interested in playing for several teams, including the Jets — and didn’t even need to meet with Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum to make his decision.

Because of the NFL’s post-lockout rules, Burress can’t practice with the team until Thursday. But clearly, the Jets are confident — sight unseen — that the former Pro Bowl receiver has a lot left as they try for a Super Bowl run even though he hasn’t played in the NFL since 2008.

There will be plenty of questions, though: How soon can he be in football shape? Has he lost a significant amount of speed? Does he still have those sure hands? Can he handle the media spotlight of being back in New York?

One thing the Jets know is that Burress gives Sanchez a big receiver — he’s 6-foot-5 — who’s a red-zone presence to complement Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller and a solid running game with Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Burress pleaded guilty in August 2009 to attempted criminal possession of a weapon after accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub in November 2008, accepting a two-year prison term. He was released about three months early for good behavior, but will be on parole for two years.

He was told to get and keep a job, undergo substance abuse testing, obey any curfew established by his Florida parole officer, support his family and undergo any anger counseling or other conditions required by his parole officer.

Burress has 505 catches for 7,845 yards and 55 touchdowns in his NFL career with the Steelers and Giants.

The move softens the blow for the Jets after losing out on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who was New York’s top priority after re-signing Holmes. But Asomugha surprisingly signed with Philadelphia, and the Jets were forced to turn their attention elsewhere.

The addition of Burress likely means Edwards will not be back after nearly two seasons in New York. Edwards, a free agent, repeatedly said he was interested in returning, but it was believed the Jets wouldn’t be able to keep both him and Holmes.

So, the Jets went after Burress, hoping he’ll be able to help the passing game. Ryan, in a voice message to Jets fans after the lockout ended, said the team planned to have Sanchez “let it fly a little more than we have in the past.”

Burress appeared to have a good visit with the Steelers on Saturday. He caught up with former teammates — including Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward — and met with owner Art Rooney, director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin.

That came a day after Burress spent 90 minutes talking with Coughlin. Despite not meeting with him during his visit, quarterback Eli Manning said he would be happy to have Burress back with the Giants, but added that he wasn’t going to lobby management to re-sign him.

“Sure, you think about Plax and the things he did in the past, and, sure, it makes sense to think about bringing him in,” Giants receiver Ramses Barden said Sunday. “But the guys who are here have to produce. Everyone else wants to jump on the bandwagon, thinking Plax was going to be a big thing for us. We just have to perform.”

Manning and Burress combined for 33 touchdown receptions from 2005-08, with none more important than the winning TD in the Super Bowl victory over New England in February 2008, when Manning won the MVP.

Burress was drafted eighth overall by Pittsburgh in 2000 out of Michigan State and quickly emerged as a game-changing receiver. He left Pittsburgh after the 2004 season and signed a six-year, $25 million deal with the Giants.

Burress’ career in New York was filled with terrific moments along with troubles — missed meetings, a one-game suspension, a contract dispute. Then came the incident that changed his life.

He was released in April 2009, a few months before beginning his prison sentence. Now he’s free and motivated to show he can still be a productive playmaker, and the Jets are willing to let Burress prove it while they go for a Super Bowl of their own.

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