NEW YORK (AP) — Plaxico Burress had lots of time to dream about this day, even if it once seemed unlikely.
The dark moments during those 20 months in prison were overcome by thoughts of reuniting with his family and catching passes again on the football field. He’d be back, he insisted, and so would everything he lost with one big mistake.
Burress just needed someone to give him a second chance. Rex Ryan and the New York Jets offered the perfect opportunity.
“When something’s taken away from you that you love, you know you love it more,” Burress said Sunday night. “You learn that playing in this business is definitely a privilege. I definitely miss being away from the game and the guys and being able to compete every Sunday with the best athletes in the world.”
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The former Super Bowl star with the Giants signed a one-year deal with the Jets on Sunday after recently being released from prison after serving nearly two years on a gun charge. Burress, who turns 34 on Aug. 12, caught the winning touchdown pass in the Giants’ upset of the unbeaten New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl before his career derailed after he accidentally shot himself in a New York nightclub later that year.
“I’m just grateful,” Burress said. “I’m excited about the opportunity and I’m going to give them everything I’ve got because they put their trust in me to be able to come in and contribute and have an impact.”
That was just the start of a busy day for the Jets.
A person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press early Monday morning that the Jets agreed to terms on a four-year contract with Antonio Cromartie, keeping the cornerback in New York. Cromartie, acquired last offseason from San Diego, was solid for New York opposite Darrelle Revis, finishing with 42 tackles and three interceptions.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team hadn’t announced the move.
Now that they have Cromartie in the fold and the defense intact, the Jets can turn their attention back to Burress, a player they hope can revive his career the way Michael Vick did with the Eagles.
Vick missed two seasons while serving prison time for his involvement in a dogfighting ring before returning to football in 2009. He was eased back into things by the Eagles before taking over as the starting quarterback last year and capping a terrific, highlight-filled season by being selected as the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“Pretty much where I am right now, I’m in a great place,” Burress said. “I really believe that everything happens for its own reasons and has its own reason. It’s definitely something that I wish that I could change, but it’s over now and I put it behind me.
“It’s no longer a part of my future or what I have going on in the next chapter of my life.”
ESPN reported that the deal is for more than $3 million fully guaranteed — $3.017 million, actually, with the last two digits a tribute to his uniform number.
Burress was at the airport in Los Angeles on his way to a meeting with the San Francisco 49ers, but canceled that trip when the Jets contacted him. He agreed to come back to New York, but in green and white this time, without even visiting with the Jets or speaking to Ryan.
“There was no sales pitch needed,” he said. “You just look at all the pieces that are in place.”
He also remembered the day back in 2009, when his legal status was unclear and he was a free agent after the Giants released him. Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum met with Burress that spring when they were in Florida for the annual NFL meetings.
“They were really the first team to support me with everything that I had going on at that time,” Burress said. “And it just felt right for me to be able to come here with everything that I had going on a couple of years ago, to have those guys approach me in the way that they did I just felt I made the right decision.”
There was no rah-rah speech from Ryan or tour of the Jets’ lavish training facility. He didn’t need any of that, and neither did the Jets.
“It’s emotional because we had some long days and some long nights,” Burress said. “You dream about this day, being able to get back into what you love, and that time has come and it’s time for me to focus on just playing football and doing it at a high level.”
That’s what the Jets are counting on, even though he hasn’t played in 2½ years. He’ll join the recently re-signed Santonio Holmes as one of quarterback Mark Sanchez’s top receivers.
“I’ve never played with a guy on the other side of me who was that explosive,” Burress said of Holmes. “It’s going to be fun. I think we’re going to drive some defensive coordinators crazy — which way they want to roll their coverage in certain situations, in the red zone, so it’ll be interesting to see how teams match up against us.”
There will be plenty of questions, though: How soon can he be in football shape? Has he lost a significant amount of speed? Does he still have those sure hands? Can he handle the media spotlight of being back in New York?
“I feel I’m in great shape,” he said, adding that he’ll surely be a little rusty. “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised.”
One thing the Jets know is that Burress gives Sanchez a big receiver — he’s 6-foot-5 — who’s a red-zone presence to complement Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller and a solid running game with Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.
“I don’t think it’s going to take me that long at all,” Burress said.
Burress met with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he spent his first five seasons, on Saturday after sitting down Friday with Giants coach Tom Coughlin, with whom he often clashed. They both said the meeting was positive, and Burress added there was a sense of closure with that meeting, and it was good “to kind of turn the page.”
Burress pleaded guilty in August 2009 to attempted criminal possession of a weapon after accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub in November 2008, accepting a two-year prison term. He was released about three months early for good behavior, but will be on parole for two years.
Now, he’s ready to help a team that has been to the AFC championship two straight years get to the Super Bowl.
“I feel like they have something special over here,” Burress said, “and I just wanted to be a part of it and hopefully we can do some great things.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.