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Are Burress, Marshall worth the risks?
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist

Plaxico Burress

 

Associated Press

Brandon Marshall

 

Mark Duncan

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Published: 6/18/2009 12:00 AM

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Most of the recent Bears talk concerning wide receivers has been about those who aren't on the roster rather than those who are.

Two tremendously skilled wide receivers with serious character concerns are available. Plaxico Burress is a free agent facing prison time, and Brandon Marshall wants a trade out of Denver.

Both are impact players, Pro Bowl talents and difference-makers. Both are also potentially trouble. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has good things to say about both. But he's not campaigning for either one, even though the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall was his go-to receiver the past two years with the Broncos, catching 206 passes for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"We're good to go," Cutler said Wednesday after the Bears' 13th and final OTA practice. "We've got everything we need out there. We're going to be more than fine from the outset."

But they could be a lot better. The Bears continue to show interest in Burress, but not to the point of doing anything about it.

"Plaxico Burress is a good football player," coach Lovie Smith said. "Of course we all know that. We keep all of our options open."

Then comes the obligatory disclaimer from Smith: "But I feel good about our team that we have right now, and I feel good about the receivers we have right now."

The odds of landing Marshall are much longer, and Smith refuses to answer questions about players under contract to other teams because of the NFL's tampering rule. That doesn't mean they're not interested; they just can't admit it.

Burress caught just 35 passes for 454 yards in an injury-plagued 2008, but in the previous three seasons, he caught 29 TD passes and averaged 70 receptions and 1,076 yards. He's also been durable, missing just eight games in seven seasons before 2008.

The case against Burress, criminal possession of a weapon, was brought after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub in November. The case has been adjourned until Sept. 23, but, if convicted of that charge, Burress faces a minimum sentence of 31/2 years. His lawyer claims the case won't go to trial until some time next year, but even if Burress beats the rap, he could be suspended by the NFL.

Still, the Bears continue to weigh the risks and rewards of signing the 6-foot-5 Burress, who has better size and a more impressive track record than any wide receiver on their roster. He also has a more checkered past than anyone at Halas Hall, which includes chronic tardiness and absence from practices and team meetings and domestic violence problems. Prior to catching the game-winning TD pass in Super Bowl XLII, he had reportedly been fined by the Giants 40-50 times.

The Bears suspended three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris for one game last season because of habitual tardiness.

What happens if they make Burress their go-to receiver and he exhibits the same flaws? Considering he's already worn out his welcome with the Steelers and Giants, it seems likely he'd do the same here - but he hasn't been ruled out.

"The door is never closed on anyone who's available," Smith said. "It's not like we're aggressively going after him, but we evaluate everyone we think will make our team better."

As for Marshall, the Bears don't have a first-round draft pick next year, having used it to acquire Cutler, and it would take at least a No. 1 to get Marshall.

It was a little over a year ago that Cutler ripped his No. 1 receiver following off-season horseplay that resulted in Marshall cutting an artery, a vein, a nerve, two tendons and three muscles in his right arm.

"Yeah, he's not my favorite person right now," Cutler said then. "I mean, I support him, but it's always something with him."

Prior to that, Marshall had been arrested for DUI and a domestic dispute.

"He's been in (former Broncos coach Mike) Shanahan's office many times," Cutler said last off-season. "I've been up there with him. He said the same thing: 'This is a wake-up call. This is the last thing that's going to happen. Blah, blah, blah.' I mean, until he goes out and proves it, we'll see what happens."

Despite the off-season drama, Marshall caught 104 passes for 1,265 yards last season. But Cutler hasn't spoken to him recently.

"He's a great player," Cutler said. "I played with him for three years, put up a lot big numbers with him, and wherever he ends up, obviously he's going to be successful. Whether or not it's here, that's up to the guys upstairs. But, as of right now, I'm 100 percent happy with what we've got."

But could he be happier?

rlegere@dailyherald.com