NEW YORK -- Facing the prospect of spending at least 3½ years behind bars, one-time Super Bowl star Plaxico Burress accepted a plea bargain with a two-year prison sentence Thursday for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub.
The former New York Giants wide receiver pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon, a lesser charge than he had faced. He will be sentenced Sept. 22, and lawyer Benjamin Brafman said he expects Burress to begin immediately serving his sentence after that.
Burress got into a black sport-utility vehicle without speaking to reporters outside Manhattan state Supreme Court, but Brafman said, "After an agonizing period of discussion, Plaxico decided that he wanted to do this, to put this behind him as quickly as possible."
Burress was indicted earlier this month on two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment.
Hours after Burress' court appearance, the NFL announced that Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended the wide receiver and said he is ineligible to sign with any team until he completes his jail term. Goodell, who met with Burress and his representatives last week, said the player will be reinstated upon completion of his sentence.
Burress' guilty plea ends months of haggling between Brafman and the Manhattan district attorney's office. The case went to a grand jury after negotiations broke down, apparently because District Attorney Robert Morgenthau insisted that Burress serve at least two years in prison.
Morgenthau didn't comment on Burress' guilty plea. Assistant District attorney John Wolfstaetter said in court that Thursday was Burress' last chance to accept the deal.
Burress, looking subdued and wearing a dark blue suit, first entered a plea of not guilty to the initial charges against him. After Brafman informed Judge Michael Melkonian that Burress had decided to plead to the lesser charge, the wide receiver said, "Guilty" to attempted weapons possession in the second degree.
Brafman said Burress, 32, was thinking of his family in taking the plea, but the attorney questioned the recommended prison sentence.
"This was not an intentional criminal act," Brafman said. "In my judgment, a two-year prison sentence is a very severe punishment."
With time off for good behavior, Burress likely will serve 20 months in prison. He will be monitored during an additional two years after his release, which could come as early as the spring of 2011.
The Giants cut ties with Burress in April, but his former teammates said they were saddened by Thursday's news.
"He is a friend of mine, a great teammate," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who threw the winning touchdown pass to Burress in the final minute of the Giants' Super Bowl XLII victory over the New England Patriots two years ago. "We won a championship with him.
"I am saddened by the news -- two years. Again, I just wish the best for him and his family and try to support him any way we can."
"Today, when I heard the news, my heart went out to him and his family, and obviously I'm just hoping that everything turns out all right in the end," Tuck said.
Burress and former Giants teammate Antonio Pierce were at the Latin Quarter nightclub in late November when a gun tucked into the wide receiver's waistband slipped down his leg and fired, shooting him in the right thigh. The bullet narrowly missed a nightclub security guard who was standing inches away, prosecutors said, and lodged in the floor, where it was recovered by a bartender.
The gun wasn't licensed in New York or in New Jersey, where Burress lived. His license to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida had expired in May 2008.
Prosecutors said Pierce drove Burress to a hospital, then took the gun to his own home in New Jersey. It was later delivered to Burress' home.
Pierce wasn't indicted. The grand jury also didn't indict the nightclub security guard who carried the gun to Pierce's car or the hospital staff members who failed to notify police that Burress had been shot.
Pierce didn't speak to reporters Thursday at Giants training camp.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press