Before his situation soured in Pittsburgh, Plaxico Burress was one of the franchise’s top receivers. He holds the record for most receiving yards in a game (253), led the Steelers in touchdown receptions in two of his five years, and posted 4,164 yards receiving during that span. In 2002, he and Hines Ward both ranked among the top five receivers in the NFL.
The question, however, is not whether Burress was a good receiver; but whether he can be one again. His more recent statistics indicate yes.
After leaving Pittsburgh via free agency, Burress landed with the New York Giants. There, he totaled 3,681 yards in 57 games. The total averages out to 64.5 yards per game–a figure that would have placed him in the NFL’s top 20 receivers last season. And, while Eli Manning is not exactly Tommy Maddox, he isn’t Ben Roethlisberger either. Burress’ numbers surely would have inflated with Big Ben tossing him the pigskin.
The former Giant also pulled in 33 touchdowns in his four seasons with the club–including a 12 TD campaign. Over the past two seasons, only four players have caught more than 12 touchdowns in a year. Burress also caught 70 or more balls in two of his last four seasons in the NFL. For a point of reference, Mike Wallace led the Steelers last year with only 60 receptions.
Even if you doubt the statistics, there is one intangible Burress hasn’t lost–his height. At 6’5″, the troubled receiver is tall type Roethlisberger has begged for since his arrival in the NFL.
The main thing to consider when contemplating Burress is his rank with the Steelers. Many wonder if he will be able to post Wide-Receiver-one type of statistics. But, those figures will not be required with Wallace and Hines Ward still in Pittsburgh. Last season the duo posted over 2,000 yards together. The Steelers next leading Wide Receiver was Emmanuel Sanders with 376 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Certainly Burress is capable of eclipsing those totals.
There is also the possibility that he could post monster numbers as a third option. Mario Manningham racked up 944 yards and nine touchdowns as the third Wide Receiver with the Giants last season. In 2008 Steve Breaston caught 70 balls for 1,008 yards in the same position.
The key to unlocking Burress’ potential with the team is in his role definition. Just beause he is tall does not mean he is best used as a down field threat.
Ward is the short yardege guy. He is relied upon to move the chains and has made a Hall of Fame career out of it.
Wallace is the down field burner. No analysis necessary.
Burress is the playmaker. He can be used in the short, mid-range, or deep passing game. Most valuable is his redzone presence though. In his best season with the Giants he only averaged 14.6 yards-per-catch–an indication that he was worked in every scenario. He is also a dangerous redzone guy. See the touchdown numbers above.
Sanders, Heath Miller, and Antonio Brown are all options behind those three. In the case of Sanders and Brown, each have bright futures with the organization. So as to not stunt their growth, it would be best to only offer Burress a one-year contract–which brings us to the issue of money.
Upon signing with the Giants in 2005, Burress inked a six year, $25 million deal. Manningham, who is a best case scenario option, is only slated to earn $550,000 this season. He is still on his entry level contract though. Breaston made a much more reasonable $2.396 last season.
Last year’s Steelers reunion with Antwaan Randle El netted the receiver $925,000 in base salary. The almost certain addition of a signing bonus would catapult Burress over that figure, but he also would likely not command the nearly $2.5 Breaston made last season.
There is one last thing to evaluate before deciding on Burress–risk of him finding more trouble. He does not have an extensive history of criminal behavior that would make him a legitimate distraction. Obviously, there was the whole two years in prison thing, but that paints him as a moron, not a degenerate.
The risk of signing Burress is a calculated one. He could potentially give the Steelers the best Wide Receiver core in the league. He also could flop completely. If his salary is as low as I believe it will be though, why not take a chance? It worked once, and the numbers indicate that it will work again.