Commentary

Gang Green bounces back with Burress

Mike Tannenbaum's Jets soar past painful Nnamdi Asomugha dis, pick up Plaxico

Updated: August 1, 2011, 3:49 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

We already knew the New York Jets could talk a big game, a bigger game than they could play. We knew they could guarantee championships, and call Tom Brady vulgar names and carry themselves with the swagger of a dynastic team-to-be.

But we didn't know if they could take a punch, until now.

The Jets were embarrassed the other day when they lost Nnamdi Asomugha to the Philadelphia Eagles, this after asking just about everyone except Joe Namath and Don Maynard to restructure their deals to make Asomugha theirs.

The rejection rocked the foundation of the Jets' program, the core belief that every free agent worth a damn was desperate to play for Rex Ryan. With the rest of the AFC surely mocking them in private, reveling in their misery, the Jets needed to reestablish their credibility as a preferred destination for the stars.

Plaxico Burress gives them that credibility at the Giants' expense.

This isn't to say Burress will be for the Jets what he was for the Giants on that indelible night in the Arizona desert, when he took painkilling injections in his knee before scoring the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl upset over New England that Giants owner John Mara called the franchise's greatest victory of all.

Burress spent 21 months in prison for accidentally shooting himself in a Manhattan nightclub, he hasn't played an NFL down in more than two seasons and he will turn 34 before opening night against the Cowboys on Sept. 11.

[+] EnlargeMike Tannenbaum
AP Photo/Julio CortezMike Tannenbaum's turned the Same Old Jets into the Same Bold Jets.

But Burress is still a 6-foot-5 receiver with strong hands and a condor's wingspan. Jerry Reese, the Giants' general manager, forever referred to Burress as a "Spider-Man," and one who would benefit every quarterback in the league.

So yes, once he steadies his legs, Burress will benefit Mark Sanchez, a guy who needs a lot of help near the goal line. Burress would've benefited Eli Manning, too, even if Eli didn't sound any more eager to spend another season with Plax than he would've been to take a two-week Caribbean cruise with Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber.

Reese realized as much, invited Burress to the Giants' facility, and made an offer of employment. Reese and Tom Coughlin have issues all over the field. They need a playmaker or three, especially since the team in Philly using them as a divisional doormat gets better every hour, on the hour.

Only Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum wanted Burress more than Reese did. Tannenbaum had spent the week chasing every available big name outside of Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Asomugha disaster left him itching to spend money and save face.

Tannenbaum offered Burress one year and $3.017 million, fully guaranteed, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was the first to report that Burress took the deal. On a day when the Giants did nothing of significance, when even the Yankees stood still at the non-waiver trade deadline, the Jets seized the marketplace by the throat.

Within hours, Matt Higgins, a team executive, tweeted that Plaxico jerseys were on sale for 80 bucks a pop. To the victor go the spoils.

And this was a victory for the Jets, even if Burress returns as a diminished asset who requires half a season of reps before becoming a credible game-day threat. The Jets couldn't afford to pay Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. They needed a relatively cheap, short-term complement to their chosen No. 1, Holmes, and they're gambling that Burress will be a bigger, better option than Edwards inside the 20 in the postseason tournament.

It's a good gamble, and Tannenbaum has majored in those. The GM has had a Vernon Gholston or two, but he's traded up in recent drafts for Sanchez, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene. Tannenbaum has a rising franchise player at quarterback, two Super Bowl stars at receiver, maybe the best defensive player in New York since Lawrence Taylor in his secondary and, oh yeah, an outsized head coach in Ryan who has led his team to the AFC title game in each of his first two years.

The Burress bulletin only advanced a trend. Same Bold Jets.

"I just look at all the pieces to the puzzle that are already in place," Burress said on a Sunday conference call with reporters. "Putting myself into this equation, being able to play besides Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mark Sanchez, I just feel it's a great new opportunity for me. I just want to come here and help these guys win."

Burress made his decision Sunday morning in the Los Angeles airport, and made it without even talking to Ryan. The receiver said he was touched by a recruiting visit paid him by Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson in the spring of 2009, before he went off to jail.

"It really meant a lot to me and my family," Burress said.

So did the guaranteed cash. Burress cost himself millions, and needs to make up for lost time.

The Giants are poorer for it, and so are two potential Super Bowl teams, the Eagles and Steelers, whose quarterbacks wanted Plax to the max.

The Jets landed Burress because they needed him more than the competition did. Asomugha's end-around made them look a little silly and a lot vulnerable.

The Burress signing makes the Giants look the same way.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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