Plaxico Burress is traveling to Pittsburgh for a physical with the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom he is expected to sign a contract. Injuries to Antonio Brown and Jericho Cotchery have left the Steelers with just three receivers on the roster, and one of those played his very first NFL snap just this past week. The Steelers definitely need depth outside of Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace and David Gilreath, but the question remains whether Burress is the best option available?
Since shooting himself in the leg in 2008, Burress has started just 13 games. Those starts came last season, with the New York Jets. Burress had only 612 yards on 45 receptions, despite the Jets expecting him to be a bigger part of their offense initially. The problem with Burress is just that, his perception has always been greater than his performance because of his physical abilities.
His best season came back in 2002, during his initial stint with the Steelers. As a starter then, he caught 78 passes for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. That was nine years ago however. Today, Burress is a 35 year old who has played very little football in recent times and wasn’t given a single opportunity with any team throughout the preseason and regular season through Week 11.
At this point, the Steelers are going to be picking the best of a bad bunch, but Burress simply isn’t a worthwhile option. Throughout his career he has never been a great route runner and doesn’t excel at running the type of routes the Steelers run in their current offense.
With Byron Leftwich (inevitably) joining Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines, the Steelers will likely go back to their shorter passing attack with Charlie Batch under center. Batch doesn’t have the elongated release and strong arm of Leftwich, he instead plays more like a less mobile Roethlisberger.
Having Burress on the field as the team’s third receiver would limit the offense, because his only value is as a redzone target in jumpball situations. He does very little outside of the opposition’s 20 at this point in his career. Even to fill that role would be essentially useless. The Steelers don’t have a big receiver to rely on, but the probability of running the ball in in those situations is generally higher than the chances of completing jump-balls.
Instead of being attracted by the potential of Burress, a big receiver with plenty of physical talent if not the production, the Steelers have better options. The impressive play of David Paulson and Leonard Pope would allow for Heath Miller to be moved to receiver in three receiver sets, while Chris Rainey was drafted to be a running-back/slot wide receiver. Both of those players would allow the Steelers to keep their current scheme and offensive identity without dramatic alterations to account for Burress.
If the team was desperate to add a face from the outside, adding Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens or Anthony Armstrong would have made more sense. The two veterans are considered difficult personalities for some coaches, but the Steelers have a very strong lockerroom presence and the duo are much better fits than Burress in the offense. Armstrong is a younger, livelier receiver who could provide a greater spark than any of the veterans, but he is likely a less reliable version of Gilreath because he will take time to learn the offense.
Signing Burress reeks of desperation for the Steelers and the worst part it is they appear to be clutching at the wrong straw.