Should the Rams Pursue Plaxico?

Plaxico Burress was released from the Oneida Correctional Facility on Monday, 20 months after being imprisoned for violating New York City’s strict gun laws. As you likely know, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg in Nov. 2008 when he illegally took a gun into a nightclub, and it discharged as he walked up a flight of stairs.

The Rams will explore adding Burress to their roster, and I’m all for that if the price is right. There might be a Steve Spagnuolo four pillars question by some, but he and Billy Devaney have both said that because of the locker-room leadership they now have, the Rams are comfortable adding a player that has a blemish on his resume.

Burress’ crime was victimless, and in most cities in America would be a misdemeanor at most, or not a crime at all. The only connection between Burress and Michael Vick is that they were both jailed, although the inevitable comparisons are there because they were both in prison for two seasons. It took a year for Vick to get his legs back, and he was 29.

Burress will be 34 in August, so whether or not he can still perform at a high level is certainly questionable. At his best, he was a terrific all-around receiver, at 6-5, 232 pounds with 4.6 speed in the 40. In his last full season, in the championship season of 2007 with the Giants, he scored a career-high 12 touchdowns and averaged 14.6 yards per catch. With New York, he became a red-zone threat, scoring 10 touchdowns in 2006 and those dozen in ’07. At 34, nobody knows if he can regain the skills he had earlier in his career.

The Rams could have used some red-zone help last season. Only five teams in the NFL advanced beyond the opponents’ 20-yard line more often than the Rams’ 56 times. Yet, only five teams scored fewer red-zone touchdowns than the Rams’ 20. If they would have scored a touchdown on a quarter of the opportunities they missed, they would have had nine more touchdowns and probably had 10 or 11 wins.

The Rams already have some capable receivers. Danny Amendola is solid, and apparently new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels loves him. Mark Clayton, a free agent who is expected to be back, developed quick chemistry with Sam Bradford and was a great leader of the corps. Danario Alexander showed great promise if he can stay healthy after five knee surgeries. Donnie Avery was having his best camp last year when he tore up his knee, and is the Rams’ fastest receiver by a wide margin.

Brandon Gibson made a strong move in last year’s second half, and Mardy Gilyard was a fourth-round choice. In addition, Spagnuolo has made it a point to talk about what a great job Dominique Curry did before he got hurt last year. In April’s draft, the Rams used their third- and fourth-round choices on wide receivers Austin Pettis from Boise State and Greg Salas from Hawaii. So even without Burress, the Rams have some receivers with ability.

They also have some receivers with checkered injury histories. Nobody would be surprised if Clayton, Avery, Alexander or Curry would deal with knee issues once they start playing again. There’s an old adage in sports that you can never have too many good players. Because of what he’s already done in the NFL, and because of what the Rams need, Burress would be an interesting fit in St. Louis. Spagnuolo would presumably know what he’s getting because the two were together with the Giants. So he knows that Burress was benched for a quarter in 2005 for being late to meetings, and was held out of a game in October of 2008 for missing a day of work and not calling the team. According to Fox Sports, he was fined between 40 and 50 times for being late to meetings and treatments.

At his age, Burress isn’t in much position to disregard the rules. He needs to act like a professional, or he’ll get cut and his career will be over. With Bradford and McDaniels, there won’t be a better chance for success than St. Louis. If Miami or New England makes an offer that’s more than the Rams offer, they shouldn’t get into a bidding war. But if he’s willing to join the Rams on their reasonable terms, then it can’t be a negative. At best, they would get a terrific red-zone weapon that would put points on the board. At worst, they would get a potential distraction or a guy who doesn’t have the physical skills any more that they could cut.

I don’t see a downside to the Rams pursuing Burress. They should take their shot, and if it doesn’t work out, move on with the guys they already have.