NEW YORK (CBSNewYork / AP) — Former Giants star Plaxico Burress was released from prison on Monday after spending nearly two years behind bars on a gun charge and headed to Florida to be with his family as he contemplates his chances of playing again in the NFL.
As he left Oneida Correctional Facility in central New York Monday morning, he hugged agent Drew Rosenhaus and shook hands. He was wearing a black sweatshirt, black shorts, black sneakers -- and a Philadelphia Phillies hat.
"I just want to thank God for bringing me through one of the most trying times in my life," he said to reporters outside the prison. "It's a beautiful day. It's a beautiful day to be reunited with my family. I want to go home and spend some quality time with them."
"I'd like to thank everybody for their prayers and words of encouragement," he said. "I'd like to thank all my fans all around the world for the thousands of letters, for their unwavering support. As far as football is concerned, if and when everything gets settled, when they get back on the field, I'll be ready."
Burress thanks his family, fans after release
He got into a black Range Rover and headed for the Rome, N.Y., airport where he was expected to fly home immediately.
His release came nearly two years after he arrived at the medium-security prison. Burress, who turns 34 in August, planned to travel to his Florida home to spend time with his wife, son and a daughter born while he was in jail. He'll continue working out while awaiting a resolution of the NFL labor dispute, said his attorney, Peter M. Frankel.
"He's ready to move to the next phase," Frankel said, according to the New York Daily News. "There's good buzz building."
A buzz building where? With rival Philadelphia, mostly.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who served a 23-month federal sentence for running a dogfighting ring, has shown it is possible to successfully return to the league.
After missing two full seasons and playing sparingly in 2010, the 30-year-old set career highs in passing yards (3,018), passing touchdowns (21), rushing touchdowns (9), completion percentage (62.6) and passer rating (100.2) this past season in leading the Eagles to the NFC East title, earning The Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year award.
WCBS 880's Peter Haskell: Is there a market for him?
Vick said in a radio interview with WIP in Philadelphia that Burress would be a great fit with the Eagles.
"I think certainly Plaxico is going to come out with a chip on his shoulder the same way I did, and he'll go out and help this football team to whatever capacity he can," Vick said. "I think the guys would be willing to embrace him and bring him in. If that happens? Who knows? We talking about "what ifs" now? It would certainly be a good thing."
Burress' release-day headwear certainly won't do anything to quiet the rumors.
Former Giants teammate Osi Umenyiora said the lockout may work in Burress' favor because he will have time to train and get ready for the season.
"He will be great when he comes out and play very well like he always has, I'm sure," said Umenyiora, who said he visited Burress in prison. "I know many teams will give him a chance because he has rare talent and ability. Overall I'm sad for what he went through, but glad that that time period is over."
Burress will face no further disciplinary action by the NFL. His league suspension was concurrent with his jail term.
The Giants have said they will keep their options open when Burress comes on the market after missing two seasons. But Burress might not be open to the Giants.
"No, he ain't coming to the Giants," running back Brandon Jacobs told the Daily News last week. "That's out of the question. He's got options and it's good that he can wait out his options. I would love for him to be a part of the Giants, but I don't think that's even on his plate."
"We are grateful that Plaxico will be reunited with his family," Giants co-owner John Mara said Thursday. "His release from prison is long overdue."
Rosenhaus said he has spoken to several teams about the wide receiver and expects him to play in the NFL again. He said Burress matured in prison and there are things he would do differently.
"He's learned an awful lot," Rosenhaus said. "He knows that he obviously made a mistake. To miss two NFL seasons in the prime of your career. To not be with your family, most importantly. To lose out on millions and millions of dollars. These are things that have forced him to certainly evaluate his life."
He said the teams he's talked to have not expressed any concerns about Burress. He did not say which teams or how many he spoke to.
"He's going to be a top free-agent," Rosenhaus said. "There are going to be multiple teams interested in signing him. I expect him to get a good contract. I expect him to absolutely be playing."
Burress pleaded guilty in August 2009 to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was released about three months early for good behavior.
The lanky 6-foot-5 receiver had the world at his feet after catching a 13-yard pass from Eli Manning with 35 seconds to play to give the Giants a stunning 17-14 win over the undefeated New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.
His world fell apart nine months later when he walked into a Manhattan nightclub with a handgun tucked in the waistband of his pants. The weapon slipped down and discharged as Burress tried to grab it, injuring him in the thigh.
The wound was not serious. The backlash was.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for Burress to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and was irate that officials at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center treated Burress and failed to report the shooting, as required by law. A doctor who treated Burress was later suspended.
The gun was not licensed in New York or in New Jersey, where Burress lived. His license to carry a concealed weapon in Florida had expired in May 2008.
Should the Giants make a major play for Plax? Sound off in the comments below...
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.