Burress was drafted eighth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft and played five seasons with the Steelers. During that time he posted 261 receptions for 4,164 yards, 22 touchdowns and six fumbles (in 71 games). Burress’ best season with Pittsburgh was in 2002, when he had a career-high 78 receptions and 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. During the 2001 season, Burress and Hines Ward combined for a total of 1,011 yards, making them the first Steelers to reach the 1,000 yard mark in a single season. In May 2004, the Steelers suspended Burress for failing to appear at a Monday tem practice. After a 2005 playoff loss, Burress announced that he intended to leave the Steelers. His apparent unhappy situation in Pittsburgh would follow him to New York after he signed with the Giants to a six-year, $25 million contract.

Prior to the beginning of the Giants’ mandatory mini-camp in May of 2008, Burress announced he wouldn’t be participating due to issues he had with his contract. He did attend camp, but only so that he wouldn’t be assessed a fine, but never practiced with the team. On September 24, 2008, the Giants suspended Burress for their October 5 game for a ‘violation of team rules’. In October of the same year, Burress was issued three separate fines; $20,000 for post-game comments regarding NFL officiating – specifically, inappropriate comments, $20,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct – specifically verbal abuse of the head linesman (official) and $5,000 for throwing a football into the stands. When Burress signed a contract extension, the deal came with incentives as well as performance requirements. During a November 23 game against the Arizona Cardinals, Burress had a 4-yard reception which was called back due to a penalty. Burress left the field and the game. Subsequently, he was released by the team on April 3, 2009.

Burress has had restraining orders placed against him due to domestic disturbances in the past, and numerous other legal issues. In 2009, Burress was the defendant in a lawsuit brought against him by a Lebanon County, PA, car dealer who claimed that Burress took a leased Chevy Avalanche in return for promises of public appearances. Burress allegedly never returned the vehicle, nor did he do public events for the dealership. After the vehicle was wrecked and impounded by police in New York City, Burress appeared in court and admitted responsibility for some damage to the vehicle. A jury was required to determine his liability, and on January 15, 2009, they handed down a verdict which awarded the dealer $1,700. Burress was involved in a civil lawsuit in Broward County, Florida, where a woman claimed he crashed his Mercedes-Benz into the rear of her vehicle. The suit was filed in December of 2008. Burress hadn’t paid his car insurance premiums and was un-insured as of three days prior to the accident. Since joining the NFL, Burress has been sued a shocking nine times. His self-inflicted gunshot wound with a handgun he’d tucked into the waistband of his pants simply added icing to a cookie that was all ready crumbling.

The Steelers organization has been fairly demanding of their players in regards to personal conduct on and off of the field. Burress wasn’t the first troubled player they had dealt with. Santonio Holmes acknowledged selling drugs in his hometown of Belle Glade, Florida, as a teen. On May 27, 2006, Holmes was arrested in Miami Beach for disorderly conduct and then again on June 18, 2006, for domestic violence and assault. On October 23, 2008, Holmes was arrested in Pittsburgh for possession of marijuana. His legal issues off the field interfered with his performance on the field and he was soon sent packing to the New York Jets. Ben Roethlisberger’s off-field actions, though he has never been proven guilty of a specific crime, led President Art Rooney II to make a statement regarding player conduct and stand behind NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s subsequent actions to suspend Roethlisberger four games during the 2010 season. Since that time, regardless of player attitudes on and off the field, the Steelers organization has been on top of behavior they have felt negatively reflected on the team and the organization.

On April 19, 2010, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin held a team meeting which illustrated the team’s new zero-tolerance policy for off-field conduct issues. Willie Colon, offensive lineman, was with Roethlisberger in Georgia the evening he was accused of sexual misconduct said, “We were told early this morning either you get in line or you get kicked out of line. You are going to be traded or you’re not going to be here.” Although Coach Tomlin later denied making those statements, the Associated Press confirmed that players were told that there would be a zero-tolerance policy in place. Steelers owner Dan Rooney released a statement, which said, “Each incident must be considered on a case-by-case basis.” Art Rooney II admitted that contributions by individuals of the team on and off of the field would be considered when making a determination on how to deal with a Steelers player who broke the policy. “As you can imagine,” he said, “to keep our commitment to our fans to consistently put the best possible team on the field, we must also evaluate a player’s likely contribution, both in short term and the long term.”

Due to Burress’ long battle with legal issues, his chances of returning to the team he began his NFL career with are slim to none. Burress joked to The Wall Street Journal that he had to “work to catch those balls” from guys in prison who threw less-than-perfect throws. He needs more than a toss or two to get a leg up and back into the NFL, however. Although early rumors placed Burress in Philadelphia along side embattled player Michael Vick, there has been no final word as to whether there is anything substantial to the claims. Head Coach Andy Reid told the press, “We haven’t even gone there…there is nothing you can do there.” Burress seems to think coming back to the NFL will be a sure thing. He said, “I think I’ll get right back into it and I’ll fall back in line…how I feel about football and what I know I can do — that’s not anything two years can change.”

Unfortunately, two years out of the NFL can change a lot. Having proven to the Steelers that he would be someone that might not be able to come anywhere near a zero-tolerance policy, it would be unwise for Burress to get his hopes up that he’ll don the black and gold of Pittsburgh anytime in the future.

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