High Risk, High Reward?

The Dallas Cowboys need help at wide receiver. If Miles Austin receives such an enormous offer from another team that owner Jerry Jones chooses not to match it, the team will need a lot of help at wide receiver.

Even if Austin stays, chances are pretty good the team will draft a wideout in April — maybe not in the first round (although it wouldn't be a bad idea), but at some point, the position needs to be addressed. Austin is a star, or at the very least on the cusp of stardom, but Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton, while useful, don't keep defensive coordinators up at night. Kevin Ogletree has shown a little promise and Sam Hurd has value on special teams, at least, but each can be replaced, if need be.

One new name that became available Monday is former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donté Stallworth.

Stallworth, 28, comes with a lot of baggage, but also a lot of ability. The Browns voided his contract Monday after he was reinstated from a one-year suspension by the NFL for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk. He served 24 days of a 30-day prison term for the incident.

Stallworth signed a seven-year contract worth $35 million with the Browns before the 2008 season. He started his career with four years in New Orleans, followed by single seasons in New England and Philadelphia before signing with the Browns. His best season came in 2005, his last with the Saints, when he caught 70 passes for 945 yards, each of which was a career high. His seven receiving touchdowns that season were one short of the career-best eight he caught as a rookie in 2002.

So will a team take a chance on Stallworth? Will the Cowboys? Should the Cowboys?

Whichever team picks him up will face a public relations nightmare, but it's not like owner Jerry Jones is shy about picking up players (Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, etc.) who make as much news off the field as on it. That part can be handled — Stallworth has appeared several times in public, has apologized repeatedly and seems genuine in his comments about how the event affected him. This is a forgiving society, and if he stays on the straight and narrow, he eventually be forgiven — even embraced — by the fans of his next team, as long as he performs.

How he'll perform, however, is the bigger question. The 6-foot, 200-pounder possesses game-breaking speed, but he hasn't played, or even practiced, in a year. He is young enough that he'll still be fast, but will need some time to knock off the rust, which there is no reason to believe he can't do.

The key factor in whether Dallas (or any other team) takes a chance on Stallworth likely will be finances. If just one team shows interest, he can be had for a veteran's minimum contract. But if multiple teams wade into the competition for his services, then the price goes up. The more his asking price rises, the more teams will bow out.

As far as Dallas is concerned, yes — he is worth the risk. The fact that he appears genuinely apologetic for the incident that cost him a year of his career and almost a month in jail does nothing to diminish the gravity of what he did. It was a horrible accident, and Stallworth knows it. He has said all the right things about drinking and driving, and about being regretful, and about his intentions to never repeat his mistake. There's a good chance his next employer won't even have to worry about him getting a ticket for jaywalking.

If Dallas can get him for the veteran's minimum, or something close to it, he would be well worth the risk, and preferably on a one-year contract. That way, if he wanders afoul of the law again, or proves incapable of knocking off the rust after his year-long hiatus from the game, the Cowboys could ditch him with no long-term ramifications. Then, if he proves productive, sign him to a longer contract.

But if he shows he is in shape and can still play, and can stay out of the police reports, he likely would be the Cowboys' No. 2 receiver if Austin stays, and potentially their top target if Austin bolts. Dallas needs to keep Austin, but if that can be accomplished while adding a big-play threat like Stallworth, a formerly thin position could become one of the Cowboys' strengths.


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