Stallworth not the answer, but Ravens must gamble

February 18, 2010|By Mike Preston

As soon as the news spread that the Ravens had signed receiver Donte' Stallworth, some fans made flight plans and hotel reservations for the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas.

Forget Brandon Marshall, Malcom Floyd and Terrell Owens. The Ravens had finally gotten a legitimate No. 1 receiver who would take them to The Show. It was a show-stopping event for those who didn't know any better.

In reality, the signing of Stallworth is just a further indictment of the Ravens' receivers from a year ago. Let's make this perfectly clear: Stallworth is not The Answer.

In fact, he is still part of the problem. Put aside all of this Ravens public relations about giving Stallworth a second chance. The Ravens-Stallworth marriage was made out of desperation. The Ravens were looking for a receiver with some speed, and Stallworth was looking for another opportunity in the NFL.

The chances that he will succeed are slim. Stallworth missed the 2009 season because of an NFL suspension after he pleaded guilty to hitting and killing a pedestrian while driving drunk.

In 2008 with the Cleveland Browns, Stallworth had 17 catches for 170 yards and one touchdown. You add it up. How many veterans who are already fading after a seventh year can make a successful comeback after missing an entire season?

I understand the Ravens' situation. In fact, I would take the gamble myself because Stallworth agreed to a one-year deal worth only about $900,000.

But the underlying message tells you that if the Ravens did not have veteran receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, they wouldn't have had even an average receiving corps. Aside from Mason and running back Ray Rice, when was the last time a Ravens receiver made substantial yardage after a catch?

Throughout his career, Stallworth has averaged 14.8 yards on 296 catches with 32 touchdowns. He's no Marshall or Owens, but he still might have enough left in his legs to produce more than Mark Clayton, Kelley Washington and Demetrius Williams.

"We've given a lot of thought to this, and we've done extensive research into Donte' beyond football," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "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," Newsome said. "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."

Newsome said several Ravens coaches, including John Harbaugh, formed favorable impressions of Stallworth when they coached him with other NFL teams.

Stallworth said Wednesday in a statement released by the team that he had made changes in his life.

According to one of Stallworth's former assistant coaches who is still in the league, Stallworth is a decent person who just partied too much.

"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," Stallworth said. "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."

In a perfect world, the Ravens would like to avoid the baggage that Stallworth is carrying around. But they can't. The Ravens and Stallworth need each other.

If Stallworth is successful in turning around his life and making the team, then it's a great story.

But he's not the go-to guy this team needs on the outside to make Joe Flacco a better quarterback or the receiver they need to improve an already strong running game and possibly push the Ravens into the Super Bowl.

Stallworth is a complementary player, the type who can help fill out a roster. He's basically what the Ravens already have, but faster and more proven.

But the announcement of his signing might have shown that the Ravens are more in the risk-taking business this offseason, if the risk means a shot at the Super Bowl.

Could a Marshall or Owens be next? Might Newsome be willing to trade for San Diego's Floyd?

"We will take each case one at a time, player by player," Newsome said. "If the information is consistent with the background information we have gathered, then we will sit down and make what we think is a good decision for the Baltimore Ravens."

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