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After a 2½-year odyssey that began with a gunshot in a Manhattan nightclub, Plaxico Burress is ready to play football.
"It's emotional because I had some long days and some long nights, and you dream about that day, getting back to what you love," Burress said on a conference call Sunday, shortly after signing a one-year, $3.017 million contract with the New York Jets. "That time has come."
Burress, who served a 20-month sentence at an upstate New York prison on a weapons-possession conviction, will begin his road back in the same city where it nearly ended for him -- the same city where he was feted as a Super Bowl hero.
The veteran wide receiver, who turns 34 in two weeks, said he chose the Jets over his two former teams, the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, because he felt "all the pieces are in place" to compete for a championship. The Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams also expressed interest.
Burress confirmed that he was on a layover in Los Angeles, on his way to meet with the Niners, when he agreed to the Jets' deal. Surprisingly, he said he hadn't talked to anyone in the Jets' organization. He said coach Rex Ryan left a couple of messages, but they never actually spoke.
"I really didn't need to talk to him to know what kind of situation I was getting into," said Burress, who was released from prison in June.
It seems curious the Jets didn't want a sitdown before signing such a controversial player, someone who hasn't played in two years. The Giants and Steelers met with him on Friday and Saturday, respectively. But instead of talking, the Jets were bidding. They guaranteed the entire salary; that was the clincher, according to a league source.
"His decision was to go elsewhere," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It sounded like a bigger guarantee. I don't know all of the facts about that. That's what happens in this business. His decision was made and, again, we wish he and his family well."
Burress said there was a sense of closure with that meeting with Coughlin, and it was good "to kind of turn the page."
Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum weren't made available to discuss the signing. Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson met with Burress in the spring of 2009, when they were in South Florida for NFL meetings, not far from Burress' home. At the time, he was facing the likelihood of jail.
That meeting apparently made an impact on Burress, who said the Jets were the first team to support him.
"It really meant a lot to me and my family, especially with all the events we had going on at that time," he said, adding, "For them to be there at that time, it really said a lot about them. I was really humbled by it ... To be able to come here and play for them, somebody who supported me through thick and just not thin, it meant a lot to me. I hope I can come here, play great and win a championship."
Burress is expected to eventually start opposite Santonio Holmes, another former Steeler.
The Jets also have reliable veteran Jerricho Cotchery. The team opted for Burress over Braylon Edwards, who is seeking a long-term deal and is expected to leave as a free agent.
"It's going to be special, man," said Burress, looking forward to teaming with Holmes. "We'll both be excited because we know we can both dominate games and make big plays. I don't think I've had the opportunity to play with a guy that explosive on the other side of me. I think we're going to complement each other real well ... I think we're going to drive defensive coordinators crazy."
A few hours after announcing the agreement, the Jets were accepting pre-orders for replica Burress jerseys for $80 on their website. Matt Higgins, the Jets' executive vice president of business operations, tweeted that Burress would be wearing No. 17 -- Edwards' number the last two seasons.
Burress said he's in terrific shape, claiming he'll surprise people, but this will be a gradual process. After all, he hasn't been tackled since November 2008. His season ended abruptly for him when he accidently shot himself in the leg. Only nine months earlier, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, the Giants' upset over the New England Patriots.
Because of the NFL post-lockout rules, Burress can't practice with the team until Thursday. But clearly, the Jets were confident the former Pro Bowl receiver has a lot left as they try for a Super Bowl run. Burress gives Sanchez a big receiver -- he's 6-foot-5 -- to complement Holmes.
Burress has 505 catches for 7,845 yards and 55 touchdowns in his NFL career with the Steelers and Giants.
He caught 35 passes for 698 yards and five touchdowns in his final year with Pittsburgh in 2004 as the Steelers slowly broke in Ben Roethlisberger, a rookie at the time. Burress moved on to New York, where he thrived catching balls from Eli Manning, but often ran into trouble with Coughlin.
The move softens the blow for the Jets after losing out on getting cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who was New York's top priority after re-signing Holmes. But Asomugha surprisingly signed with Philadelphia, and the Jets were forced to turn their attention elsewhere.
Burress wrote on his Twitter page: "East Coast here I come!"
Meanwhile, the Jets have all six draft picks under contract after signing third-round pick Kenrick Ellis on Sunday. Ellis, 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, is a nose tackle from Hampton (Va.) University the Jets see as a highly talented developmental player.
Ellis is awaiting a November trial on a felony assault charge, stemming from an on-campus incident from more than one year ago. His contract probably took a little longer because of the legal issues, with the Jets likely seeking protection in the event Ellis can't fulfill the deal.Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.