EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants released Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress 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 nightclub.
Burress' four-year tenure with the Giants was highlighted by a game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLII against the previously undefeated New England Patriots in February 2008, but it also was 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 he's convicted.
Burress' case was adjourned Tuesday while his attorneys and prosecutors worked on a possible plea agreement. He is due back in court on June 15.
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 case in court earlier this week appeared to play a role in the Giants' decision.
"I am an optimist, and I believe most situations can be worked out," Giants 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."
Burress hasn't spoken publicly about the shooting. His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, noting that he is a Giants fan, called the team's decision to release the wide receiver a huge mistake.
"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," Brafman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Brafman said he hasn't spoken to Burress since the move was announced.
The decision to release Burress might lead the Giants to look for a deep-threat wide receiver in this month's draft. The only current Giant who might fill that role is Mario Manningham, a second-year pro who did little during an injury-plagued rookie season. Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon have shown the ability to be deep threats on occasion, but neither is as consistent as Burress at stretching a defense.
The Giants recently talked with the Cleveland Browns about a trade for veteran wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Those talks either might heat up again with the release of Burress, or New York might make discuss a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for Anquan Boldin, who was unhappy with the NFC champions late in the season.
Burress' Giants teammates had been supportive about his possible return.
"It's an unfortunate situation for everyone involved," 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 receive 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, 31, caught 244 passes with the Giants, which places him 12th on the franchise's career list, one 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 lost four of their final five games after Burress was suspended and placed on the non-football injury list, meaning he also couldn't appear in the playoffs.
The Giants finished 12-5, losing at home in the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Plaxico's contribution to our championship season in 2007 can never be underestimated or undervalued," Giants 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. However, the team failed to pay Burress a $1 million signing bonus 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-the-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 didn't 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 receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games last season.
Burress joined the Giants as an unrestricted free agent in March 2005 after spending five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press