The Ravens signed former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte'… (AP photo )
Desperate for a playmaking wide receiver, the Ravens granted disgraced former first-round draft choice Donte' Stallworth a second chance Wednesday.
The ball is now officially in his court. Will Stallworth, 29, finally fulfill the promise he held as the 13th pick in the 2002 NFL draft? Or will his last chance continue the decline of an injury-strapped seven-year career?
What's obvious is that Stallworth won't outrun his legal past anytime soon and the Ravens aren't finished trolling for receivers who can put the zip back into quarterback Joe Flacco's passing game.
The NFL suspended Stallworth for the 2009 season after he pleaded guilty last June to manslaughter while driving drunk in Miami Beach, a second-degree felony in Florida. He struck and killed a 59-year-old construction worker March 14, one day after he cashed a $4.5 million bonus from the Cleveland Browns.
Two days after his guilty plea, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Stallworth indefinitely without pay with this admonition: "Your conduct endangered yourself and others, leading to the death of an innocent man. The NFL and NFL players must live with the stain that you have placed on their reputations."
And Stallworth will live with his restrictions. Terms of his plea agreement called for one month in jail (he served 24 days) and two years' house arrest, followed by eight years' probation. He also lost his driving privileges for life and was required to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
The Ravens signed Stallworth to a one-year contract reportedly worth $900,000 with $300,000 in incentives after a Tuesday workout in Owings Mills. In making the announcement, they took the unusual step of issuing statements by Stallworth and team officials, but they did not make Stallworth available to the media.
"We want Donte' to spend some time with our coaches and his new teammates before he meets with the media," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.
Newsome's statement addressed concerns over Stallworth's off-the-field problems but barely touched on his on-the-field potential.
"We've given a lot of thought to this, and we've done extensive research into Donte' beyond football," Newsome said. "He has 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 [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti] 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 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."
The Ravens rushed to sign Stallworth, who worked out for the Detroit Lions a week ago. He was cut by the Browns on Feb. 8, the same day he was reinstated by Goodell. Because Stallworth was cut and was not technically an unrestricted free agent (whose contract had expired), the Ravens were able to sign him before the start of free agency March 5. Their limitations as one of the "Elite 8" teams in an uncapped year did not come into play in the signing.
It is unclear whether there were other teams interested in signing Stallworth. Neither his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, nor his attorney, David Cornwell, returned phone messages Wednesday.
For the Ravens, the risk-reward ratio was good. At $1.2 million, they get a player motivated to redeem himself and make good on his potential. If he fails, it is not a huge monetary loss.
The Ravens have five receivers on their roster who will become free agents -- restricted or unrestricted, depending on stalled negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement -- in two weeks. Derrick Mason, Kelley Washington and David Tyree are unrestricted veterans whose contracts have expired. Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams are five- and four-year veterans who will be restricted in an uncapped year.
Only Justin Harper, who spent most of 2009 on the practice squad, and Marcus Smith, who was on injured reserve, are signed for the coming season.
The signing of Stallworth, who played with three teams from 2006 to 2008, makes sense, said Andrew Brandt, who writes about the business side of football for Nationalfootballpost.com.
"I do think, from reports of the money involved, it is a low-risk signing that the team can move on from if he is not the player or person that they hope him to be," Brandt said in an e-mail. "Stallworth knows he is on a short leash."
Stallworth, who is 6 feet and 200 pounds, has 296 catches and 32 touchdowns over 95 NFL games for four teams. His best season was his last with the New Orleans Saints in 2005, with 70.catches and seven touchdowns. He played with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006, the New England Patriots in 2007 and the Browns in 2008.