FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The mere mention of wide receiver Plaxico Burress' name evoked a facial reaction equal parts concern, consternation and confusion from Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert.
"I just hope he's OK," said Colbert, who still seems to have a warm spot in his heart for Burress nearly four years after Burress left the Steelers for the New York Giants in free agency. "Plaxico is a good guy. Sometimes he just makes life hard on himself."
Colbert, who drafted Burress with his very first NFL draft pick for the Steelers in 2000, didn't have to say anything else. The sad shake of his head was enough to get the point across.
Burress' latest venture into odd and/or dangerous behavior – accidentally shooting himself in the thigh Friday night at a New York City nightclub – is just the latest example of something he has done that makes anyone around him ask a simple question.
Dude, what are you thinking? Which leads to another query: How will the Giants and NFL react?
Ultimately, Burress' self-inflicted wound has brought him a heap of trouble with New York law enforcement and probably a ticket out of town only 10 months after he finished a great season by catching the game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl win over New England.
"I don't think you have to be a very sophisticated poker player to read people's faces on this one," a Giants source said when asked if Burress is done with the franchise. "There's a point where enough is enough. I think this is probably it."
The Giants appear to have grown tired of Burress' anti-authority stance. His unwillingness to be on time for meetings or regularly attend physical rehab sessions for his injuries have driven coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese to distraction.
The team has fined Burress, who was rewarded with a five-year contract extension prior to the season opener, dozens of times for various offenses during his tenure. He was suspended for the Week 5 contest against the Seahawks and fined a game check. He was benched during the first quarter of the team's Week 8 victory over the Steelers. Just days before the Pittsburgh game, he was fined a total of $45,000 for his detrimental behavior during the game against San Francisco and for his subsequent negative comments about the officiating.
Burress, who should be living in the reflected glory of the Super Bowl win and his team's pursuit of a repeat, now faces the possibility of being let loose.
"[The Giants are] showing they can win without him," another source said. "They're the best team in football right now. They're winning without [defensive end Michael] Strahan, [defensive end] Osi [Umenyiora], [tight end Jeremy] Shockey and now Plax. They know they can move on and you can see they're not afraid to move on."
The Giants, currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC with an 11-1 mark and riding a seven-game winning streak, would not be the first championship-caliber team to discard of a troubled receiver if they release or shelf Burress.
In November 2003, then-defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay deactivated wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for the final six games of the season after labeling him a disruption. Johnson was traded to the Cowboys after the season.
Two years later, the defending conference champion Eagles suspended receiver Terrell Owens for four games, then deactivated him for the final five because of conduct detrimental to the team. Like Johnson, Owens would go on to join the Cowboys the following season.
In addition, Burress could face some sort of action from the league. The NFL has a written policy on gun possession and among other things states: "And if you violate a public law covering weapons, for example possession of an unlicensed firearm, you are not only subject to discipline, including suspension from playing, but also subject to criminal prosecution."
On Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg piled on Burress by saying the Giants wide receiver should be put "in the slammer." Bloomberg didn't leave the slightest bit of wiggle room in his opinion.
"Our children are getting killed with guns in the streets. Our police are getting killed with guns in the hands of criminals," Bloomberg said at a news conference in the Bronx. "It would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law particularly people who live in the public domain, make their living because of the visibility."
In New York, the law is basically that anyone caught with an unlicensed firearm faces three to five years in prison. Burress let his registration of his gun in Florida expire in May.
Translation: Burress is in deep trouble, much deeper than he thinks. Not just with the team, but with the law.