FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Donte Stallworth didn’t think it would take this long.
Released on Aug. 27 by the New England Patriots, the veteran wide receiver went back home to Miami to work out and be ready for his next chance to play in the NFL.
With a career average 14.9 yards per catch and 34 touchdowns, he didn’t expect to be out of work for long. Instead, he stayed home for 98 days.
But now Stallworth, a 10-year veteran and member of the 2007 almost-perfect Patriots, is back with New England. On Tuesday, the Patriots placed Julian Edelman on season-ending injured reserve and brought back Stallworth.
“I’d rather it be September,” he said in a locker room interview, when asked if it was nice to come back to a playoff-bound team. “But December’s not too bad either. It’s better than sitting home and watching Dexter and Boardwalk Empire all day.”
He joins a team that clinched its fourth consecutive AFC East title with last Sunday’s 23-16 win at Miami — a game that Stallworth, coincidentally, attended and watched from the press box. The 9-3 Patriots face the 11-1 Houston Texans next Monday night at Gillette Stadium.
Stallworth, 32, is doing his best to get ready for one of the best defenses in the NFL. Asked what his first day back was like, he said:
“It was, come in, take care of business, make sure I get reacquainted with the playbook, know it as well as I can and just take it one day at a time. Today was a good day for me as far as getting back into the playbook. I’ll be studying all night and doing the same thing tomorrow.”
Quarterback Tom Brady said it’s always good to have someone come in who is familiar with the offense. Stallworth and Brady hooked up 46 times for 697 yards and three touchdowns in 2007.
“Donte’s got an opportunity to come back,” Brady said in his weekly press conference Wednesday. “It’s always nice to see familiar faces and people that have played within our system and kind of understand the expectations for that position and Donte is really a professional, so it’s great to see him.”
Stallworth , the 13th overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, had actually signed to return to the Patriots last March 23. He left New England after 2007 to join the Cleveland Browns.
After serving a one-year suspension in 2009 following his conviction on a DUI manslaughter charge, Stallworth spent the last two years in Baltimore and Washington.
His return to New England was short-lived, however, as he was cut at the end of training camp.
“Honestly I was disappointed but I’ve been in this league long enough to understand how it works,” said Stallworth. “It’s just like after a game. You lose a game and you’re upset about it that night and then you come in the next day and prepare. That’s what I did, although it took me a little more than a night. More like a few days.
“But after that I just tried to get back to where I live in Miami and get back with my trainer and continue to work and hope for an opportunity.”
He trained hard, caught passes along with Plaxico Burress (who recently signed with Pittsburgh) from Wes Carroll (a former Florida International quarterback) and worked out for a couple of other teams. But Stallworth relishes his return to New England.
“Well I have a lot of love for this organization, just everything about the New England Patriots,” he said. “I have a lot of friends on this team. So to say I was excited is probably an accurate assessment.”
He doesn’t know what his role will be and Bill Belichick, as usual, shed no light on it either.
“We’ll see how it goes this week,” Belichick said. “We’ll see what his role ends up being this week. We haven’t seen him for three months. We’ll put him out there in practice, go through some things, see how it looks and what we think is best for the team for this week.”
Stallworth knows that his previous experience in the system won’t mean a thing come game day.
“Being out as long as I have … it’s not like a video game where you can throw someone in and they automatically know what’s going on,” he said. “So it’s like I’m back in school studying. I’ll be studying hard every day and just taking the game preparation as we’re getting it and trying to take in as much as I can.”