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NFL Free Agents: Plaxico Burress Unlikely To Return To Steelers

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The Post-Gazette recently ran an interesting article on the prospect of the Pittsburgh Steelers bringing back Plaxico Burress for the 2011 NFL season. Burress is about to finish serving a 21-month prison sentence for carrying a concealed firearm into a New York nightclub, a mistake that announced itself with a bang - literally - when the former Giants wideout shot himself in the thigh. Whoops.

Despite this embarrassing blunder and the time wasted in prison, Burress, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2000, has enjoyed a pretty impressive NFL career. Although he's had injury concerns from time to time, Burress has four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, including a 1,325-yard 2002 campaign with Pittsburgh. And of course there was his game-winning touchdown catch (video) in the Giants' upset over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

But now Burress will be 34 years old when if the regular season begins in September. Granted, the Post-Gazette makes some convincing arguments in favor of the Pittsburgh front office at least considering their former receiver. First, there's the front office's relationship with Burress, who was the team's first selection ever under GM Kevin Colbert. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might also lobby for the reunion, as he loved throwing deep to the towering Burress early in his career. (Colbert tried, and failed, to replace Burress with the lanky Limas Sweed, but the team has never featured a wideout with Burress' exact skill set since his departure.) And of course, Burress may not be the least-wounded-by-his-own-gun cat in the nightclub, but he's "hardly your typical hardened criminal," as Ron Cook puts it. Pittsburgh usually steers clear of guys with character and behavioral issues, but Burress is no Michael Vick.

Still, I really don't see this happening.

In fact, it's difficult to even imagine where Burress would fit into the receiving food chain if he once again donned black and gold. If you're head coach Mike Tomlin, are you really going to give Burress playing time over the speedy Mike Wallace, your emerging superstar? What about Hines Ward? True, this could very well be the year that the wheels fall off for the aging veteran - it tends to happen suddenly for wideouts - but Ward has been too good at finding soft spots in zone coverage on third down and moving the chains. Would you even play Burress as your third receiver over second-year guys Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, both of whom showed promise in their rookie seasons? (If so, you'd have to line Burress up wide and shift Ward to the slot.) Even if the deal went through, it's hard to forecast Burress as anything more than fourth on the depth chart.

The biggest question, of course, is whether or not the guy can still play. He's been in prison for almost two years and isn't exactly a spring chicken. But even if Burress proves he's still got something left to give, Pittsburgh won't make a splash in free agency to acquire his services. With super-agent Drew Rosenhaus in his corner and two seasons' worth of foregone salaries, plus a mountain of legal fees staring him in the face, you can count on Burress pouncing on the most lucrative deal. And that'll be with a team with less depth at wide receiver and a greater willingness to toss money around than Pittsburgh.

Just like the rumors we debunked before the 2011 NFL Draft that Pittsburgh would try to pair Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Mike Pouncey with his twin brother Maurkice, Burress-to-Pittsburgh is a fun narrative to ponder in the news-starved dog days of summer - but ultimately not one that will pan out.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.