Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh and his career in the foot.

It doesn't have to be a fatal wound.

The former Super Bowl star walked out of prison Monday after serving nearly two years behind bars on a weapons charge. He's ready to put his life back together and shouldn't be denied a chance at redemption in the NFL, having served an extremely harsh penalty — too harsh in my view — for carrying an unlicensed gun into a nightclub in 2008.

Talk about a fall from grace. Nine months before the shooting, Burress was the toast of New York after he predicted an upset over the undefeated New England Patriots, then backed up his bravado by hauling in the winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the Giants' stunning 17-14 win.

But as Michael Vick proved, Burress' time away from the game could turn out to be a blip in his career. He says he worked out four times a week in that New York state prison, and he sure looked in game shape when he emerged through a gate topped with barbed wire in a Phillies cap, black hoodie, shorts and sneakers, pulling a single suitcase.

Burress surely is lugging a lot more baggage than that, but look at it a different way: Prison saved two years' worth of wear and tear on a soon-to-be-34-year-old body. Plus, he must have gained some much-needed perspective on the life he was leading before that fateful night of clubbing in Manhattan.

Seriously, which receiver would you pick from this group of aging controversy magnets: Burress, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Chad Ochocinco?

That's an easy one — Burress all the way.

"He's going to be a top free agent," predicted his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who leaped into his client's arms outside the prison. "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."

There's still that little matter of the lockout, of course. As soon as it's settled, Burress insists he'll be ready to start catching passes.

He's certainly earned a second chance, spending longer in prison for accidentally shooting himself than some criminals get for more heinous acts against others.

"If Plaxico was not a high-profile professional athlete, he would not have received the two-year sentence," said Tim Newman, an associate professor of sports management at York College in Pennsylvania. "However, that comes with the territory of being a professional athlete. Sometimes you are treated differently than the average person, both good and bad."

If Burress thinks he got a raw deal, he sure didn't show it once he removed himself from Rosenhaus' embrace long enough to make a brief statement to reporters. He thanked "God for bringing me through one of the most trying times of my life." He gave a shoutout to thousands of fans for their letters, prayers and words of encouragement. He called it a "beautiful day" and said he looked forward to being reunited with his wife and two children — the youngest born while he was locked up.

Then, before driving away in a black Range Rover, he touched on his work plans.

"As far as football is concerned, if and when everything gets settled and when they get back on the field," Burress said, "I'll be ready."

Let's not make this guy out to be a saint. Burress had been in trouble — on and off the field — before he made the ill-advised choice to tuck a handgun into his waistband before a night on the town.

He ran afoul of the Giants and his previous team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he didn't bother showing up for practices and missed meetings. Some thought he feigned injuries to get out of practices he did attend. There were domestic disturbances and civil lawsuits on his pre-shooting blotter.

Now, Burress says he's ready to start the rest of his life — just one tweet he sent not long after clearing the prison gate.

Calling Vick might be a good start.

No. 7 was even more reviled than Burress after Vick's affinity for dogfighting came out. But the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a second chance, and Vick sure took advantage of it. This past season, he claimed the starting job, led his team to the playoffs and was selected to the Pro Bowl, as well as winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.

Vick, however, was nearly 5 years younger than Burress when he rejoined the league. The receiver can't afford for the NFL to lose an entire season trying to reach a new labor deal. But, assuming there's a settlement before Week 1 and Burress follows Vick's blueprint for contrition, the former Giants star will be an awfully good investment for any team that needs a receiver.

"If Plaxico stays out of trouble both on and off the field, does community service outreach in relation to gun violence, I do not think it will be long before this is behind him," Newman said.

Heck, despite Rosenhaus' bluster, this just might be the right time to get Burress on the cheap. Once he's had a year to show what he can do on the field, he might be in position to demand some really big bucks.

No one could deny he's already paid a hefty price.


National Writer Paul Newberry can be reached at pnewberry(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963