Cook: Plaxico Burress is worth a look

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This is not another Jaromir Jagr story. Plaxico Burress isn't Jagr. It makes no sense for the Penguins to bring back Jagr. It makes perfect sense for the Steelers to bring back Burress.

Check that.

It makes perfect sense for the Steelers to at least look into bringing back Burress.

Burress is scheduled to be released from prison June 6 after serving 21 months on a felony gun charge in New York. He's getting out three months early because of good behavior. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said Burress will be reinstated to the league once he's released and will be eligible to sign with a team once the NFL lockout ends. Agent Drew Rosenhaus has said several clubs have expressed interest in Burress, who turns 34 Aug. 12.

Here's hoping the Steelers are one.

Normally, I'm not one to advocate signing a convicted felon, especially one who hasn't played in the NFL since November 2008, shortly before he walked into a Manhattan nightclub with a concealed, unlicensed, loaded gun in the waistband of his track pants and shot himself in the thigh when the weapon slipped down his leg. But Burress is hardly your typical hardened criminal. He did a really stupid thing and paid a stiff price for it. But as Steelers linebacker James Farrior said of Burress' prison sentence in '09, "I still can't believe it. I feel like they should save the jail sentences for the real criminals. I don't feel like Plax is a threat to society. He's not out to harm anyone. He only did it to protect himself."

Burress was the Steelers' No. 1 draft choice in 2000. He was a great teammate with them, productive on the field and popular off it. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loved throwing to him. What a target Burress made. Tall, fast and athletic. What quarterback wouldn't love throwing to a 6-foot-5, 232-pound wide receiver with the speed to get deep?

"I couldn't say one negative thing about him," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said of Burress in '09. "He was a quality kid. He never gave me anything but great effort on the field and in the classroom ...

"I remember him crying at our meeting after the [AFC] championship game [after the '04 season] when he said goodbye because he knew it was his last meeting as a Steeler. He wasn't the only one crying because he was leaving."

It wasn't as if the Steelers wanted to get rid of Burress the way the Penguins did Jagr back in the day because of his many mood swings and his sulking. They had to choose between giving big money to him or Hines Ward. They chose Ward, which turned out to be the smart decision. Pittsburgh wouldn't have the Mirror Ball Trophy without him, you know? But the New York Giants also did OK signing Burress as a free agent. He caught the winning, last-minute touchdown pass to beat the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Burress later had problems with the Giants, was suspended for a game in '08 for violating team rules and was fined on a number of occasions by the club and the NFL. It's easy to think he took himself too seriously and thought he was bigger than the team and the game. But then the game -- not to mention a $35 million contract -- was taken from him. He has had plenty of time -- almost 21 months -- to think about what he had and threw away. If that doesn't mature a guy, nothing will.

By all accounts, Burress is in great shape and ready for a second chance to show he's still a big-time receiver. I don't think he's going to blow it. "He's counting the hours," attorney Peter M. Frankel told ESPN.com. "He's extremely positive."

The Steelers owe it to themselves to reach out to Burress and Rosenhaus, if they already haven't done so.

The contract price might be too high, especially if Rosenhaus isn't exaggerating the interest in Burress. But what does it hurt to find out?

Roethlisberger is busy and was unavailable for comment -- the big wedding, you understand -- but I'm guessing he would be all for bringing Burress back.

The Steelers are OK at wide receiver. They still have the great, Hall of Fame-bound Ward, although he's probably down to his final season or two.

They also like young wide receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

But the addition of Burress at the right price would make the group that much stronger.

The Steelers are a veteran team that is built to win the Super Bowl right now.

Burress would make them a better team right now.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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