Think of Plaxico Burress as a test, a test of whether Dan Snyder’s Redskins really have learned their lesson. The gun-toting receiver walked out of prison Monday, agent Drew “Next Question” Rosenhaus by his side, and officially put himself up for bids. Can Mike Shanahan possibly resist submitting one, starved as he is for an extra-large wideout, or will Burress become the latest bad actor to land a leading role in Ashburn?
This isn’t about second chances. Everybody deserves a second chance, and Burress will get his — from some risk-taking team or other. But that team doesn’t have to be the Redskins. Indeed, that team shouldn’t be the Redskins, not if Shanahan truly is intent on changing the culture of losing that pervades the franchise, the self-defeatism of short-term thinking, brain-freeze free agent signings and basically making it up as you go along.
No, this is a mathematical matter, not a quality-of-mercy question. This is about playing the percentages. As in:
• What are the odds Burress’ behavior, hardly Boy Scout stuff even before his O.K. Corral Moment, won’t at some point become an issue for the Redskins?
• What are the odds he’ll be a good role model for rookie Leonard Hankerson or any of the other young receivers Shanahan hopes to develop?
• What are the odds a wideout who turns 34 in August and just spent 21 months behind bars will even remotely resemble the player he was three seasons ago, when he was Eli Manning’s most lethal weapon (if you’ll pardon the expression)?
Even if he did remotely resemble that player, what are the odds he’ll be as successful with the talent surrounding him in Washington as he was with the talent surrounding him in Pittsburgh and New York — where, among other things, he played with Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks (Manning and Ben Roethlisberger)?
And finally, what are the odds Shanahan lasts much longer as coach if Burress turns out to be a certified, Albert Haynesworth-quality disaster?
If the Redskins add it all up - and are completely honest with themselves — they’ll tell Rosenhaus: We’ll pass. But cleared-eyed self-assessment hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of the Snyder era. Delusions of grandeur have been, though, And with Burress, the Redskins could easily fall victim, once again, to the One Player Away trap. They might look at this 6-foot-5, 226-pound monstrosity, this receiver who once caught the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, and convince themselves that this is a guy who can take our offense to another a level, this is a guy worth going out on a limb for.
But is he?
It’s easy to be cynical about these reclamation projects like Burress. You sign them, hope they can produce for a few seasons, wait for them to implode (as they often do), pray that the fallout isn’t too severe and move on. We saw it in New England, Minnesota and Tennessee with Randy Moss. We saw it Philadelphia and Dallas with Terrell Owens. We saw it in Tampa Bay and Dallas with Keyshawn Johnson. And we may be seeing it in Miami with Brandon Marshall, who started out in Denver under Shanahan.
Almost all of those clubs, interestingly, had coaches who had either been to the Super Bowl or at least reached the conference title game (Bill Belichick, Brad Childress, Jeff Fisher, Andy Reid, Bill Parcells, Tony Dungy). In other words, they felt secure enough to roll the dice with a potentially problematic player. Obviously, Shanahan falls in that category, too. But he’s also coming off a nightmare 6-10 season in which he locked horns repeatedly with Haynesworth and, frankly, didn’t impress anyone with his crisis management skills.
If he’s truly trying to build something here — something lasting, something character-driven — why would he want to bring in an irresponsible sort like Burress? In addition to his felony conviction, let’s not forget, Plaxico has been suspended twice in the NFL (once by the Steelers, once by the Giants) and, according to the Associated Press, has been sued at least nine times since coming into the league, mostly for not paying his bills.
He’s a gamble that, for the Redskins, just isn’t worth taking — especially since, because of the labor situation, there figures to be a limited orientation period for new players. (Besides, anybody who’d walk around with a loaded Glock in his waistband at the age of 31 probably isn’t the world’s quickest study.)
But Rosenhaus insists he has received “excellent” feedback about Burress from clubs and is convinced Plaxico is “going to be a top free agent, and there are going to be multiple teams interested in signing him.” And we all know agents never fib.
So you wonder: Could he end up in Washington, where they changed the name of the Bullets to the Wizards? Say it ain’t so.