Former NFL receiver Caldwell killed in Florida

TAMPA, Fla. — Donald “Reche” Caldwell, who spent seven seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver after a stellar career at Florida, was killed in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, on Saturday night, his mother confirmed to TMZ. He was 41.

Police confirmed to ESPN that there was a homicide but would not say whether Caldwell had been killed.

Caldwell helped lead the Gators to an SEC championship in 2000. He was selected in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers, where he played until 2005, before signing with the New England Patriots in 2006. He was the Patriots’ leading receiver that year with 760 yards.

He was with the team the next offseason — when he crossed paths with Wes Welker — until being released at the end of the preseason.

Welker tweeted Sunday: “Reche’s smile and attitude were contagious! My thoughts and prayers go out to Bubba Caldwell and his family!”

Welker met Caldwell in 2004 when they were with the Chargers and then reconnected in the offseason before the 2007 season in New England.

Former Patriots teammate Benjamin Watson also tweeted: “Always kept us laughing and light hearted. Always had the biggest smile. Always had the greatest stories. Sad to hear about the passing of my teammate Reche Caldwell. May the Lord comfort his family during this time.”

Caldwell had a one-year stint with the Washington Redskins in 2007 and went to training camp with the St. Louis Rams in 2008.

In 71 career games, he caught 152 passes for 1,851 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

Caldwell returned to his hometown of Tampa and struggled to find his way after football. He opened an event planning company and volunteered as a football coach, but he still felt a huge void in his life. His brother and fellow former Gators and NFL wide receiver, Andre “Bubba” Caldwell, told ESPN The Magazine that he believes Reche was haunted by dropped passes in the AFC Championship Game in January 2007. The Patriots lost 38-34 to the Colts.

“The way the game kicked him to the curb like an unwanted stepchild hurt him mentally and haunted him,” Andre said.

In 2014, he was arrested for drug possession and intent to sell and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and three years’ probation. Then, in January 2020, he pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, along with several other former NFL players, who filed nearly $4 million in false insurance claims over a span of 18 months. He was set to be sentenced this month.