The once-bountiful free agent pool is relatively picked clean as summer kicks off. Other than the signings of veteran insurance players like OJ Atogwe and James Ihedigbo, all the contract news you hear revolves around draft picks and long-shot street free agents.
Yet there remain many veteran players without homes, a number of whom could still be productive and reliable, in spite of what their current physical state may be. Skilled running backs like Ryan Torain, Jackie Battle, and Ryan Grant are still waiting for their phones to ring, and veteran defensive stars in Andre Carter, James Farrior, and Lito Sheppard also wait idly, wondering if they’ll ever play another down in the NFL.
Then there’s Plaxico Burress.
With the subtlety of a 9.0-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake, “Plax” has voiced his desire to play once more. At the onset of the free agency period, Burress was using everything but signal flares to try and get the attention of the Philadelphia Eagles. In an interview with Brian Baldinger on ESPN Radio, he discussed wanting to win a championship with friend Michael Vick, and heaped lavish praise upon rising stars LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin.
[adinserter block=”2″]For a Philadelphia club that boasted a mediocre 51.5% touchdown success rate in the red zone a year ago, you’d think a reliable red zone target in Burress would be an easy buy. The Jets in 2011, with Plaxico, had a 65.4% rate of touchdowns in the red zone, good for second best in the league behind Detroit. That’s up from 44.3% in 2010, when Burress was still sitting behind bars.
Yet, here we are after the Eagles’ final OTAs, and Burress remains unsigned. It seems as though Andy Reid is banking on a combination of Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Marvin McNutt, and Chad Hall to fill the wings of the receiver position over an aging ex-champion in Plax.
With seemingly no interest from the Eagles, nor many other teams for that matter, Burress went on WFNZ in Charlotte this week and spoke of his desire to play with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. During the radio interview, Burress claimed to have taken calls from other NFC South teams, but was holding out for one from the John Fox and the Queen City, because that’s where he wants to play in 2012.
The New York Post has suggested that Burress wants $3 million to play this season, which is similar to the deal he had for the Jets a year ago as fail-safe target for an inconsistent Mark Sanchez with goal to go. If Burress gets the money he wants, he’d be tied for 37th among wide receivers in 2012 salary, alongside DeSean Jackson, Kevin Walter, James Jones, and Malcom Floyd. It’s also a mere half a million less than what potential teammate Steve Smith brings home this season.
But wouldn’t that $3 million be money well spent? Smith had a renaissance season a year ago thanks to rookie Cam Newton’s startling mastery and evolution of the quarterback game. After becoming a casualty of Jake Delhomme’s slow rot, and Jimmy Clausen’s ineptitude, Smith was jump started by Newton’s commanding approach. His 17.6 yards per completion was the second highest of his eleven year career, and his 1394 yards marked the third highest total of his NFL run.
If Newton could revive Smith in such noticeable fashion, couldn’t he do the same for a jump-ball maven like Plaxico Burress? Reversing the viewpoint, wouldn’t an easy target like Burress give Newton just one more way to crumble a defense that already has difficulty hemming “Super-Cam” in?
It’s not uncommon to see a star player lobby to bring in a specific big ticket free agent to increase his team’s odds of winning, but Steve Smith firmly went the other route.
On a recent edition of NFL Total Access, Carolina’s hard-nosed wideout was in studio, and prompted with Burress’ radio comments, and Smith diplomatically rebuffed Plaxico’s campaign. While praising Burress’ abilities, Smith argued that adding him to the squad would diminish the development of youngsters like Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, and breakout return specialist Kealoah Pilaries, among others.
Smith concluded by saying that, barring a major injury to the receiving corps that would require instant and dependable patchwork to fix, there’s no need to add Plaxico Burress to the Carolina Panthers.
When’s the last time you saw an active player, one of considerable renown, be as unambiguous as possible in publicly voting “no confidence” in a free agent with so many benefits?
Looking at some of the worst teams in red zone touchdown percentage, Burress would be an instant boon to any of them. Among the bottom six from 2011 are Indianapolis, Washington, and Cleveland, who all have about a 41-42% success rate. Since all three teams will be fielding rookie QBs this season, isn’t a sure jump ball target like Burress a viable support piece for “the new guy”?
Rounding out the cellar of red zone futility are San Francisco (41%), St. Louis (39%), and Kansas City (33%). After seeing what service Burress could provide for an unconfident, inconsistent Mark Sanchez, wouldn’t Jim Harbaugh want him to sure-hand some of Alex Smith’s erratic throws? Well, he did sign Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, so that can be dismissed. What about the Rams, whose best receiving threat is either Danny Amendola or rookie Brian Quick? The Chiefs could definitely use some help, especially with Dwayne Bowe not having signed his franchise tender.
And yet the man who is so eager to play in 2012, so keen on bringing home a championship somewhere, so able to solve nagging solutions for teams that could use his talents, is ignored by many, and even downplayed by a peer.
[adinserter block=”1″]Is it the $3 million asking price? Is it that he’ll turn 35 during the preseason? Is it his history of legal troubles? Is there a belief that the infamously negative attitude in the Jets locker room last year was facilitated by him?
Whatever the case may be, chances are that Plaxico Burress will show up at somebody’s training camp in a month, at a reduced price or not. The fact that nobody ponied up the money or the interest when free agency kicked off seems to speak volumes.
Much louder ones than Plaxico speaks when he campaigns to sign with (insert team here).
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for Wrestlechat.net and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.