Burress wants more than team can give
Chris Harlan, Times Sports
Plaxico Burress is asking for more than the Pittsburgh Steelers can offer.
Sure, he wants money, but he also wants fame.
The unrestricted free agent wants the league-wide attention that comes with being an elite wide receiver. He wants to be revered as much as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Or maybe even Bengals receiver Chad Johnson.
He feels he's just as good. And he's more than ready to leave town to prove that.
In Burress' mind, the biggest difference between them and him is that they see more passes. A lot more passes. And, statistically, he's right.
Johnson had 180 passes thrown his direction this season, an average slightly more than 11 per game. Owens and Moss each averaged nine.
On average, Burress saw six passes during each of his 11 games. He said that's not enough to feel comfortable; a seemingly poor excuse for dropped passes until you see Johnson was once thrown 21 passes during a single game.
Following a Week 2 loss to Baltimore, Burress was already growing impatient. At that point he'd made three catches through two games.
"It gets frustrating," he said. "I can't look you in the face and tell you it doesn't. You keep telling yourself that you're this kind of player.
"But after a while, it (being overlooked) keeps going on and getting repetitive and repetitive. You've got to keep your spirits up and focus on what you want to accomplish. And who you are."
How was he supposed to achieve Owens-like numbers if he's getting a third less passes? The Steelers former first-round draft pick would seem to have a point.
But then consider how many passes Burress doesn't catch.
When he missed a touchdown pass during the AFC Championship Game, no one should have been surprised. Look statistically, and you'll see he'd been doing that all season.
Burress caught little more than half the passes thrown his direction, ranking him beneath most Pro Bowl receivers
He caught 35 of the 86 passes - 51.5 percent - leaving him well behind the completion percentages achieved by pass-catchers Owens, Torry Holt, Javon Walker, Muhsin Muhammad, Isaac Bruce and teammate Hines Ward. That's just naming a few.
Muhammad caught 57.4 percent.
Bruce caught 58.9 percent.
Owens caught 60.2 percent.
Walker caught 60.5 percent.
Holt caught 67.1 percent.
Ward caught 67.2 percent.
Not surprising, all six finished with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
What is surprising is that Moss, the player Burress is most often compared with, caught only 50 percent of his passes. So maybe there is a similarity after all.
Burress has acknowledged for months that this, his fifth season with the Steelers, would probably be his last. After the AFC Championship Game was the first time he used the word "probably" but he'd been saying the same thing for weeks.
In the days leading up to their first-round playoff game with the New York Jets, Burress said he was approaching the game like it was his last with the team.
"I have to, this is a business first," Burress said. "If I'm not wary of that, then I'm not telling the truth. I wouldn't be honest with myself. It may happen. There's a good chance I won't be back."
What are the odds he would return?
"I don't know," Burress said. "You've got to ask the guys upstairs."
Does he want to come back?
To that question Burress gave no answer and walked away. If he does return next season, his statistics won't improve much - something the lanky receiver surely knows.
The Steelers ran the football 63 percent of the time this season. And they'll try to do the same again next season. The team's wide-open passing attack left town with former coordinator Mike Mularkey.
So why not sign with the San Francisco 49ers? They'll give him millions. And, more importantly, they'll throw Burress the football 10 times a game.
He probably will. Or at least a pass-driven team like them.
Which is why the 27-year-old said his career with the Steelers was probably over. He'd been inching toward this decision all season. No one should be surprised.
Burress earned a base salary of $535,000 and a $600,000 bonus in this, the last year of his contract. He and his are surely preparing for a significant raise.
Randy Moss is playing under an eight-year, $75 million contract. Marvin Harrison recently signed a seven-year, $67-million contract.
The Steelers could always attach the team's lone "franchise" tag to Burress and force him to stay. But that would force the Steelers to pay him an average salary of the league's five highest-paid receivers.
And Burress, the second-best receiver on his own team, isn't worth that.
Teammate Ward earned $1.7 million this season, and he's hoping for a raise when his contract expires after next season.
If Burress does choose to stay, then he's given up on his dream of being an elite receiver. Because no matter how much money the Steelers offer, there will be someone else offering even more.
More passes and more fame.