Donald "Reche" Caldwell is best known in New England for leading a lack-luster Patriots receiving corps during the 2006 season. A common refrain among Pats fans is that "Reche freakin' Caldwell was Brady's best target" during that year. It's a bit of a backhanded compliment, or a polite insult, I guess.
Regardless of what you thought of Caldwell on the field, he is a human being and it was terribly sad to hear that he was killed on Saturday night in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. Caldwell's mother, Deborah, confirmed his death to TMZ and the Tampa Bay Times. She stated that the police believe Caldwell was ambushed outside of his home in an attempted robbery.
The 7-year NFL veteran grew up as a multi-sport star and was drafted to the MLB's Cincinnati Reds before deciding to go to the University of Florida on a football scholarship. After three standout years in Gainesville, Caldwell was selected with the 48th pick in the 2002 NFL Draft by the then San Diego Chargers. The wideout played in parts of four seasons for the Chargers, but never really broke out. After the 2005 campaign, he signed on with the Pats.
Caldwell's Patriots career can be described as successful if you simply look at the numbers. He posted over 60 catches and led the team with 760 yards. He also showed up in the playoffs against his former team with seven receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. However, you have to know the context of those numbers. Like I said, Caldwell was really the best option in a group of no names for the Patriot's offense. Tom Brady went to him out of necessity and the results were actually more inconsistent than anything. Too often, Caldwell let drops get to him and that manifested itself at the biggest moment, when he flubbed two attempts in the AFC Championship game, a game that Pats would go on to lose in frustrating fashion.
After that game, Caldwell's career really was over. New England released him just days before the 2007 season and he signed with the Washington Redskins. He totaled only 15 catches for the 'Skins in eight games. During the next offseason, Caldwell signed another one-year deal, this time with the then St. Louis Rams. He was cut during the preseason and never played again. His career totals are as follows...
71 career games played
1,851 receiving yards
After football, Reche returned to Tampa and opened up an event planning company while also volunteering as a football coach. His brother, another former Florida Gator and NFL wide receiver, Andrew "Bubba" Caldwell, has gone on record with ESPN saying he believed Reche was tormented by his 2006 AFC Championship Game performance. That's tough to hear and should remind us as fans that we cannot take a game too seriously. As mad as I remember being at Reche in the moment, it's football and it doesn't matter. No one wants to think that a player is letting a performance like that effect the rest of his career and his life after retiring. That sucks.
Caldwell had some off-field troubles during the past decade and has had several run ins with the law. He was actually due to be sentenced this month after pleading guilty to committing health care fraud (along with several other former NFL players). Despite all of that, his death is a tragedy and comes far too soon. Former teammates and coaches shared thoughts and messages about him today and most spoke of his fun-loving and kind personality.
Statement from Bill Belichick regarding Reche Caldwell. pic.twitter.com/p0qJrO9kTF— New England Patriots (@Patriots) June 7, 2020
I played against Reche Caldwell in college, we were both c/o 2002, and spent time together on the 2007 Patriots. so many stories, but one thing you knew about Shady was he always smiling. here’s a 2002 rookie card we shared. RIP, good brother. 🙏🏿 pic.twitter.com/HXUdoZdRXX— Donté Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) June 7, 2020
We are all saddened by the death of Reche Caldwell. He was one of the best WR’s in school history and was very instrumental in winning the 2000 SEC Championship. We will always remember him and RIP Reche! -Coach S.S.— Coach Steve Spurrier (@SteveSpurrierUF) June 8, 2020
At the end of the day, I'll try to remember Reche Caldwell for the positive contributions he made to another great Patriots team, rather than the negativity. Hopefully his killers can be caught and justice can be served. Rest in Peace, Reche. The prayers of New England go out to the Caldwell family.