Reports surfaced two days ago that free agent receiver Donte’ Stallworth had agreed to terms with his former team, the New England Patriots, to return for the 2012 season. Stallworth spent the 2011 season with the Redskins, his sixth team in as many seasons.
Stallworth was a serviceable receiver with the Redskins, making several spectacular catches, including a touchdown in the game against Dallas. He had his best game of the year against the Patriots, burning his former teammates for 96 yards through the air.
But Stallworth’s finest hour in Washington was not on the field, and can’t be seen in the highlight reels. His lasting impact on this franchise will be his influence on the players that constitute the youth movement in Washington.
When Stallworth came to Washington in August, he promised to provide the fabled ‘veteran leadership’ that many claim but few can provide. His locker was positioned near the door, and players would chat with him on their way in and out of the locker room.
His most-profound impact was likely on rookie receivers Niles Paul and Leonard Hankerson, as well as fellow Bay Area-native DeJon Gomes. Whether it was showing these players how to practice on the field, or how to act off of it, each of these three rookies blossomed into solid contributors for the team in 2011.
As a well-known free agent receiver, I knew Donte’ The Player before he joined the team. But there were a few moments during the season when I realized what a professional he truly was.
Going into the final preseason game against the Buccaneers, Stallworth was perched firmly on the bubble, in terms of earning his spot on the final roster. He played quality minutes, but got only dink-and-dunk passes for 7 yards-per-catch. As the minutes waned down in the game, it appeared that his brief time in Washington may be as well.
But with 1:14 to go and the Redskins trailing by one, Kellen Clemens dropped back and found Stallworth streaking down the field. Stallworth was blanketed by the coverage, but hauled in the 41-yard bomb for the game-winning touchdown.
Following the game, Stallworth praised his teammates and thanked the organization for the opportunity he had been given. He said he was hoping to make the team and would love to carry on in Washington, but sounded like a grizzled veteran who knew the numbers game.
He was elated when he made the team later that weekend.
Fast-forward two and a-half months to Week 9 against the 49ers at home. It was an all-around bad afternoon for Redskins not named Roy Helu, and Stallworth was cut that following Tuesday. The prolific tweeter handled the situation with dignity and class, while his former teammates offered their feelings:
Even when he was re-signed following the Dolphins game, he mentioned his regret that his return was keyed by a season-ending injury to rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson. With that being said, he was ready for another opportunity.
Stallworth finished the year with 22 receptions, 309 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He wore Redskins spandex in his workouts this offseason and frequently tweeted about his desire to win a Super Bowl ring before retirement.
In the Patriots, he joins a team that was only minutes away from winning one in 2011.
On his way to New England earlier this week, he took a few minutes to thanks his teammates, the Redskins organization, and most importantly, the fans:
In return, he got a goodbye tweet from locker neighbor Niles Paul:
Congratulations on your next step Donte’, and stay classy in New England.