EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants released Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress in a stunning move on Friday, a little more than four months after the talented but troubled wide receiver accidentally shot himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub.
Burress' four-year tenure with the Giants was highlighted by a game-winning touchdown catch in the Super Bowl against the previously undefeated New England Patriots in February 2008, but it was also dogged by fines and suspensions.
Burress' status has been uncertain since he shot himself in the thigh on Nov. 29 with an unlicensed gun he'd stuffed into his waistband. He faces a felony weapons charge that could put him in prison for at least 3 1/2 years if convicted.
Burress' case was adjourned on Tuesday while his attorneys and prosecutors worked on a possible plea agreement. He is due back in court on June 15.
The 31-year-old Burress, who was suspended by the Giants for the final four weeks of the season for conduct detrimental to the team and fined after the shooting, also faces possible NFL sanctions for violating its personal conduct policy.
The delay in ending the court case this week appeared to play a role in the Giants' decision.
"I am an optimist, and I believe most situations can be worked out," general manager Jerry Reese said in announcing the decision. "We hung in there as long as we could in hopes that there could be a resolution to this situation other than the decision we made today to release Plaxico.
"It wasn't to be, so now we have to move on. Like everybody else here, we want nothing but the best for Plaxico, and we are appreciative of the contributions he made to this franchise."
Benjamin Brafman, Burress' attorney, said he has not spoken to Burress since the move was announced.
"My own view as a lawyer and a Giants' fan is that the team made a huge mistake," Brafman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He is a good man, a good football player and I only hope that with the benefit of hindsight the Giants don't ultimately regret this decision."
Drew Rosenhaus, Burress' agent, did not immediately return a telephone message or e-mail.
The decision to release Burress might lead the Giants to look for a deep threat receiver in the draft later this month. The only player currently on the roster who might fill that role is Mario Manningham, a second-year player out of Michigan who did little in an injury-plagued rookie season. Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon have shown the ability to be a deep threat on occasion, but neither is as consistent as Burress at stretching a defense.
The Giants talked briefly with the Cleveland Browns recently about a trade for veteran receiver Braylon Edwards. Those talks either might heat up again with the release of Burress, or New York might make discuss a trade with Arizona for Anquan Boldin, who was unhappy with the NFC champion Cardinals late in the season.
Burress' Giants teammates had been supportive about his possible return.
"It's an unfortunate situation for everyone involved," Giants' two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "(I'm) not surprised. He is a tremendous talent, and you never want to let a guy like that go for nothing, but I think the uncertainty of the court forced their hand."
A little more than a week ago, Umenyiora predicted that Burress would reach a plea agreement and not get jail time.
However, the prosecution's reported desire to require Burress serve some jail time as part of any deal seemingly ended his chances of playing for the Giants next season.
Burress caught 344 passes with the Giants, which places him 12th on the franchise's career list, one catch ahead of Earnest Gray and three behind Aaron Thomas. Burress had 3,681 receiving yards and caught 33 touchdown passes for the Giants.
The Giants finished 12-5 last season, but they lost four of their final five games after the suspension of Burress, their long deep threat. The season that began with hopes of consecutive Super Bowl titles end at home in the playoffs with an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Plaxico's contribution to our championship season in 2007 can never be underestimated or undervalued," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He displayed tremendous determination throughout that season. Having said that, I have always been as concerned about Plaxico as a man as I have been about him as a player, and my hope is that everything that has happened over the past several months represents a turning point.
"He is a young man with a family who has a whole lifetime ahead of him, and I personally wish him and his family well."
The Giants signed Burress to a five-year, $35 million contract extension in September. The team failed to pay a $1 million signing after the shooting and the NFL Players Association filed a grievance on the player's behalf.
The grievance, which contests whether teams can withhold guaranteed salaries and bonus money from players because of off-field conduct, was heard earlier this week by a special master, Stephen Burbank at the University of Pennsylvania law school. His ruling is expected within a week.
Burress had caught a pass in 115 consecutive games, including 56 with the Giants, until he was shut out at Arizona on Nov. 23, his last game before the shooting incident. Burress started but left that game after one series with a hamstring injury and did not return.
Burress' 23 postseason catches with the Giants leave him fifth on the team's career list and his 310 postseason yards place him third. He had 35 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games last season.
His last Giants' reception was an 11-yarder late in the second quarter in a victory over Baltimore on Nov. 16.
Burress joined the Giants as an unrestricted free agent March 2005 after five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.