- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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Justin Tuck called it a blueprint.
What Michael Vick has done the past two years, going from a convicted felon whose only football reps were during recreational hours in a prison yard to a player who finished second in voting for a Madden NFL cover, is extraordinary.
And Plaxico Burress is reaping the benefits.
As soon as the newly minted New York Jets wide receiver cashes his first check in a deal that will bring him $3 million guaranteed this season, he should hit a florist on the way home and send Vick the biggest bouquet those millions can buy. And a steak dinner. And one of those big, heavy watches. Something that adequately expresses thanks to the man who drew up the blueprint.
"If it wasn't [for Vick] going through what he went through, maybe I wouldn't be here today," Burress said on the first day of Jets camp. "So I'm grateful for him in so many different ways."
The market for ex-felons in other professions isn't particularly high. Try getting a teaching job after a short stint in Sing Sing for, say, breaking into an ATM. Tony Dungy won't be coming to call on you in your concrete-lined parlor.
But football is a place where your skills trump your mistakes. Where hope springs eternal after each infraction -- as long as your time in the 40 doesn't dip. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to a player who hasn't taken the field in two years, but the Jets took their leap of faith with Burress without so much as a post-prison set of jumping jacks.
And that's where the example of Vick might have been pivotal.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has been publicly supportive of Burress since it was clear the receiver would try to return to the game.
"Hopefully he'll use my situation as an example and go out and try and emulate what I've done in his own way," Vick said in June. "That's what it's about. It's about growth, and it's about learning. Things in life happen in stages, and those are some things you have to go through as an individual."
Certainly some generally managing minds have been changed given Vick's success -- Burress rattled off a list of five or six teams inquiring about his services.
"That's a big deal," said LaDainian Tomlinson of what's Vick example has done, "for anybody who's coming off a two-year layoff dealing with personal issues -- to feel wanted."
As for whether the 34-year-old Burress has the speed to make another Super Bowl-winning catch -- it's a total unknown.
It was the ultimate fall for Burress and Vick. Neither of these guys was in jail on tax evasion. Vick was sentenced to 23 months after being convicted of charges related to dogfighting, and Burress shot himself in the leg with his unregistered gun, later pleading guilty to a weapons charge with a two-year prison term.
When Vick got out of jail, the Eagles got him on the cheap, not sure whether the versatile wide receiver would be a backup wide receiver used in the Wildcat or something more. It was a risk. But Vick ultimately demanded the starting QB job with his play, and his off-the-field behavior has been -- with one exception -- a remarkable turnaround.
"Mike's been a good friend of mine for a long time," Burress said. "For him to come back at that elite level, it just shows a lot about him, his drive, his indelible makeup."
Ryan likes giving second chances. Just ask wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was suspended by the league for four games last season after a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy but whose play earned him a five-year deal with the Jets potentially worth $50 million -- despite the cloud of a yearlong suspension if there is another infraction.
"[Ryan is] going to wipe the slate clean," Holmes said. "Don't come at his players with any negative attention because that's not what we're about here. We're about giving guys a chance to play football, and that's that. Criticize him for what he does on the field and off the field during that time, but not what he did before."
Burress came back to the game with options -- San Francisco or New York? -- and the market for him increased with every team willing to take a chance on him. As Albert Haynesworth went to New England for a fifth-round pick, the price for Burress was driven up by the number of teams in the mix.
Without having played a down, Burress became a sought-after commodity. It wasn't hoped that he would come back from his days behind bars, it was assumed he would.
Turns out Vick didn't just show Burress the way to a fresh start, he blazed a trail for others to follow across the NFL.
Michael Vick's redemption story blazed a trail for Plaxico Burress.