Ravens take a chance, sign Stallworth

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens principal owner Steve Bisciotti recently indicated that he believes in granting second chances and was willing to take risks to upgrade the roster. Following that philosophy, the Ravens have taken a calculated gamble by signing troubled wide receiver Donte' Stallworth to a one-year, $900,000 contract along with an additiional $300,000 in incentive clauses.

For the Ravens, it's a first step toward bolstering their threadbare receiving corps with an influx of speed.

For Stallworth, this marks an opportunity to resurrect his career after being reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell following a one-year suspension for pleading guilty in June to a DUI manslaughter charge.

Stallworth served 24 days out of a 30-day sentence in a Miami jail after striking and killing construction worker Mario Reyes with his car while driving under the influence of alcohol after a night of partying at the ritzy Fountainebleau hotel in South Beach.

"There was a time I felt the mistake I made was the end of the world for me," Stallworth said in a statement. "I've had trouble putting it into words. I will never get that morning back. 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 know my apology will never be strong enough for some, but I've made changes, and I'm trying to be a positive influence. It's an honor and privilege to play in the NFL, and I'm so thankful for this opportunity. I will make the best of it, and some people may listen to me because I will be playing. I hope I can do some good in delivering a message that could help someone or prevent someone from doing what I did."

The Browns terminated Stallworth's contract on the same day that Goodell reinstated him.

The Ravens scooped up the 2002 first-round draft pick following a Tuesday tryout, a move that reinforces the team's extreme need at wide receiver.

The Ravens made room for Stallworth on their roster by terminating the contract of tight end Quinn Sypniewski after he failed his physical following his latest surgery on a severely damaged left knee.

"We've given a lot of thought to this, and we've done extensive research into Donte' beyond football," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He made a huge mistake. There's no doubt about that. He has paid a significant price for that and, as he has said, he carries a heavy weight.

"As Steve said, we believe in second chances, and Donte' does deserve that. But we've signed him because we want to get better, and we think he has a chance to help us. We worked him out, and it's obvious he is working hard to be effective. We thought it was important to sign him now, because other teams were pursuing him, and we want him in our offseason program, which starts next month."

While the character issue is one red flag, the durability issues surrounding Stallworth are ultimately more significant. He has only played in every game three times in seven NFL seasons.

Around the league, Stallworth doesn't have a reputation as a bad person. He's regarded as having a pleasant personality, but made a huge, fatal mistake.

"Stallworth was very well liked by those on the team and in the building in Cleveland," former Ravens and Browns scout Daniel Jeremiah wrote on his Moving the Sticks' Web site. "Concern is durability. Nagging hammy."

Plus, Stallworth, 29, has bounced around the league over the past three seasons.

Signed by former Ravens executive Phil Savage to a seven-year, $35 million contract in 2008, he caught only 17 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown in 11 games with the Browns.

Stallworth was hampered by a chronic quadriceps problem.

In New Orleans, he caught a career-high 70 passes for 945 yards in 2005.

Stallworth caught 38 passes for 725 yards and five touchdowns with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 before signing with the New England Patriots and catching 46 passes for 697 yards and three touchdowns.

For his career, the former University of Tennessee standout has registered 296 receptions for 4,383 yards and 32 touchdowns while averaging 14.8 yards per catch.

What Stallworth has going for him is his ability as a downfield threat. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds.

And he has connections with the Ravens' coaching staff having played for the Philadelphia Eagles when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was the Eagles' special teams coach.

Stallworth played for Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler as a rookie in New Orleans when he caught 42 passes for 594 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns.

"Donte' has talent and ability, that's why he was a high first-round choice," Hostler said. "He's a player with the type of potential to make defenses pay attention to him. He was very productive as a rookie when he played 13 games. I know what kind of person he is, and I respect him.

"We all know the tragic mistake he made, but I believe he has grown from that, and we're looking forward to seeing him grow more. His second chance can be good for the Ravens. We plan to get the best out of him, and I'm confident he will give us his best."

Stallworth avoided a lengthy jail sentence and a major lawsuit from the Reyes family by reaching a confidential financial settlement worth an excess of $3 million.

Stallworth, who had no previous criminal record, hit Reyes with his Bentley after a night of drinking when the construction worker was rushing across the street to catch a bus. The NFL player had a blood-alcohol level of 0.126, above the .08 legal limit in Florida

He faced as much as 15 years in prison, but has remaining house-arrest obligations that won't prevent him from working. He was assigned eight years of probation, 1,000 hours of community service, and his driver's license was permanently revoked.

He's eligible for limiting driving privileges after five years.

Stallworth didn't leave the scene of the crash and informed officers that he hit Reyes.

The incident happened one night after Stallworth received a $4.5 million roster bonus from the Browns.

Now, he's getting another chance. However, he'll have some rust to shed after not playing in a game last season.

"I know a number of the Ravens' coaches, they know me," Stallworth said. "They stood up for me. They've shown faith. I can't let them down. I'm ready to try and help the Ravens."

The Ravens didn't make Stallworth available to reporters with Newsome stating that the team wanted him to get to know his coaches and teammates before conducting interviews.

"Our goal is to become a better team, and we work on that every day," Harbaugh said. "Adding Donte' gives us the opportunity to improve. I observed him and interacted with him for a year when we were both in Philadelphia.

"He's the kind of person and player who can help us. It's clear that he is determined to play, that he has been working hard and that he wants to have a positive impact off the field, too. We're looking forward to working with him."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are expected to explore the trade and free agency market for higher-profile wide receivers like the Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall, the Arizona Cardinals' Anquan Boldin and the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd.

Unrestricted free agent options include Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Kevin Walter.

The Ravens have talked recently with veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason. Mason is an unrestricted free agent who's expected to play next season after briefly contemplating retirement.

The Miami Dolphins are rumored to be interested in Mason.

"I did have a discussion with Derrick," Newsome told the Times in a telephone interview. "We would like for Derrick to remain a Raven."

NOTE: Newsome indicated that the Ravens haven't sent out any one-year tenders to their restricted free agents.

The Ravens have until March 4, the day before the start of the free agent signing period, to fax out those tenders to retain right of first refusal.

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