All eyes will certainly be on wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth and the Baltimore Ravens after the club signed him Wednesday – a second chance for a man whose horrible personal decision cost another man his life less than a year ago.
The football move to add depth to the wide receiver corps is a good thing for a Ravens team in need of playmakers. He was 21st among wide receivers from 2005-09 in yards per reception (14.8) and 11th among WRs in average yards after the catch (5.3) over the same five-year period. Stallworth is not a No. 1 receiver any more, but he will be someone opposing defenses will have to account for.
Stallworth has had a lot of personal accounting to do over the last year.
He was convicted of second-degree DUI manslaughter in the death of Mario Reyes in March 2009. He admitted to drinking the night of the accident, and received a sentence of 30 days in jail, 1,000 hours of community service, two years of house arrest and 10 years probation. He also lost his Florida driving privileges for the rest of his life.
He served just 24 days in jail – a sentence that angered many of those who fight for tougher drunk-driving laws – and he avoided a civil lawsuit by reaching a financial settlement with the Reyes family. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the 2009 season, and he was reinstated the day after Super Bowl XLIV.
So, Stallworth was eligible to return to work, and the Ravens have given him an opportunity to re-prove himself.
I worked around Stallworth during his first four seasons in the NFL with New Orleans (2002-05). I won’t say I knew him well outside of the locker room, but I had plenty of conversations with him about football and his career after practices and games. You also get a real sense about a player by watching him interact with his teammates and coaches when the media isn’t around.
Stallworth was well-liked in the locker room, and he worked hard on the practice field. He’s had a lot of injury issues (hamstring, heel) during his career, and his prep work before practices and games was painful to watch as his hamstrings were stretched to the limit like a track athlete’s would be before a meet (Stallworth ran track and jumped in high school).
The early-entry to the NFL (he was drafted No. 13 overall out of Tennessee after his junior year) battled those injuries in his first two seasons to start just 10 games among the 24 he played, although he had eight TD catches as a rookie in 2002.
The next two seasons he caught fire, with 767 yards and five TDs in 2004 and 945 yards and seven TDs in 2005 during the club’s disastrous 3-13 Katrina season. In August 2006, he was traded to Philadelphia, and later was fourth on the team in receptions for the Patriots during their undefeated regular season in 2007. He battled injuries again in 2008 with Cleveland, and his numbers tumbled.
Stallworth’s one-year signing does not present a significant risk to the Ravens. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter points out, both Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, and Stallworth is the only veteran WR under contract in Baltimore right now. He still has the burst of speed and good hands to be effective as a possession receiver for Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense. He has been working out, and obviously the Ravens looked at both the football player and the person before offering him a contract.
I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone what to think of the Ravens signing Stallworth, especially in light of his conviction. But I can say this from my perspective: He is a very thoughtful person who seems to “get it” about the game and life. I read the quotes from Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, and all spoke about his horrible decision, and the consequences for both the Reyes family and for the man who chose to drink and drive.
Stallworth has to live with that result each day, and while he paid a financial sum, he can never repay the emotional debt to Reyes’ family.
“I will never get that morning back,” he said in the Ravens’ press release. “It weighs on me every day and will for the rest of my life. What I can do is move forward, try to be a better person, try to convince others not to do what I did and warn others about the dangers of drinking and driving. I have to show otherwise that what happened doesn’t reflect who I am. I have to prove that, and, hopefully, I’m on my way to doing that.”
Maybe the prevalent “it will never happen to me” mentality in locker rooms or the local bars might come to a momentary pause when hearing Stallworth’s message.
“I will make the best of it, and some people may listen to me because I will be playing,” he said. “I hope I can do some good in delivering a message that could help someone or prevent someone from doing what I did.”
If anyone thinks twice and doesn’t climb behind the wheel after a couple of drinks because of Stallworth’s fatal mistake, that will be the most important unseen catch of his career.