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Receiving Attention

Posted Jun 8, 2011

Plaxico Burress, the Chiefs and degradation of wide receivers with age

Plaxico Burress, a four-time 1,000-yard performer, is out of prison and looking for work. When the NFL lockout lifts, he shouldn’t have much trouble gaining employment.

Though Burress hasn’t played in a game since 2008 and is coming off the worst statistical year outside of his rookie season, the NFL world is buzzing about potential destinations for the troubled wide receiver. Maybe it’s the lack of a free agent period this off-season, or maybe it’s the after-effect of Mike Vick’s improbable return to MVP form, but Plaxico’s release from prison is getting plenty of run.

Forget about the character concerns for a minute. Besides being removed from the game, practices or any setting remotely close to an NFL locker room for more than two seasons, Burress will turn 34 in August. Age nips the best in the bud; even those who’ve spent their entire careers training with the best equipment alongside top trainers.

Sure, there are exceptions.

Jerry Rice still had 600 catches, nearly 8,000 yards and 51 TDs left in him after turning 34 years old. Terrell Owens turned in one of his best seasons the year he turned 34 (2004) and celebrated with another 1,000-yard season at age 35.

Some players do seem to get better with age.

Former Chiefs WR Eddie Kennison didn’t turn in a 1,000-yard campaign until his ninth NFL season (2004). He turned 32 years old just as that season ended and tacked on another 1,000-yard campaign in 2005 to become just the fifth wideout in NFL history to produce his first pair of 1,000-yard seasons in his ninth pro season or later.

Of course, Kennison endured an injury-plagued season the year he turned 34 (2007) and was out of football little more than a year later.

Likewise, Randy Moss is coming off the worst season of his prolific NFL career and just happened to turn 34 in February.

The mid-30s can blow up player, or it have seemingly no effect at all. Most of the factors depend on individual health and playing environment. Which route will the Plaxico Burress comeback story takes, who knows?

Either way, it’s unlikely we’ll be witnessing a Plaxico re-birth in Kansas City.

As a whole, aging wide receivers haven’t been productive to the Chiefs on-field fortunes since Scott Pioli and Todd Haley arrived in 2009. They’ve come in a dime a dozen and left with little contribution or declining production.

Over the last two seasons, the Chiefs have acquired just four receivers aged 30 or higher at the time of their signing. Of those four, the only one to make any type of real impact was Chris Chambers in 2009.

Chambers enjoyed a very productive nine-game stretch for the Chiefs to finish out the 2009 season, catching 36 passes for 608 yards and four TDs after joining the team off waivers November 3rd. That yardage total actually led all Chiefs receivers for the year.

Chambers’ encore in 2010 was an obvious disappointment.

After re-signing with the Chiefs as a 32-year old unrestricted free agent last off-season, Chambers disappeared sometime in August. He showed deep-play ability throughout OTAs and began training camp with numerous of big-yardage plays, but quietly faded as the preseason wore on.

Chambers finished 2010 with a very pedestrian 22 catches for 213 yards with a TD. He was inactive in the playoffs while Kevin Curtis and Verran Tucker rotated at the No. 2 position opposite Dwayne Bowe.

WRs Acquired By Chiefs Over Age 30 From 2009-10

Player *Age Year(s) Rec. Yards TDs
Chris Chambers 31 2009-10 58 821 5
Kevin Curtis 32 2010 1 3 0
Bobby Engram 36 2009 5 61 0
Amani Toomer 35 2009 0 0 0

*Age when first joined Chiefs

While the Chiefs certainly have room to add a veteran wide receiver, adding an influx of youth appears to be the current strategy. The selection of Jonathan Baldwin 26th overall is the off-season move Kansas City’s hopes will result in an immediate impact that alleviates defensive pressure off Bowe, who is entering the prime of his career.

Other top options are either young players or returning veterans just beginning to enter their 30s.

Dexter McCluster may receive more looks in the backfield next season, but should still be a key factor in the receiving game. Tucker showed encouraging development as an undrafted rookie last year and should be fun to watch as a sophomore. Jeremy Horne originally made the Opening Day roster because of his ability to run vertical routes.

Jerheme Urban, who just turned 30, is healthy and ready to compete for time next year. Maybe the team brings back Terrance Copper for another season. Copper turned 29 in March.

Chambers is still under contract, Quinten Lawrence is aiming to stick and, who knows, maybe Curtis could be an option to re-ink as well.

The slot situation in Kansas City is bound to look appealing to any undrafted free agent that plays the position.

The Chiefs aren’t done adding competition at wide out. It’s just hard to imagine a scenario where Plaxico enters Arrowhead as anything other than an opponent in 2011.

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