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.
"I am saddened to hear the news about Reche. He is remembered for his solid contributions to our team. My thoughts and prayers are with Reche's family," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement.
Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also remembered Caldwell with two story posts on Instagram.
In addition, former Patriots teammate Benjamin Watson tweeted: "Always kept us laughing and lighhearted. 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."
Wes Welker, who met Caldwell in 2004 when they were with the Chargers and then reconnected in the offseason before the 2007 season in New England, tweeted: "Reche's smile and attitude were contagious! My thoughts and prayers go out to Bubba Caldwell and his family!"
Caldwell's pleasant demeanor was a point of agreement among his many teammates. Donte Stallworth, who crossed paths with Caldwell in New England in 2007, told ESPN: "He was always smiling and laughing so much it was infectious to everyone around him."
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.
We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of former Patriot Reche Caldwell.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) June 7, 2020
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/mxBtkTXTKD
We are terribly saddened to hear of the passing of former Redskins WR Reche Caldwell.— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) June 7, 2020
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Caldwell family along with all of Reche's friends and teammates. pic.twitter.com/0uvTObcNRh
We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of former Charger Reche Caldwell.— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) June 7, 2020
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Reche's family, friends and teammates during this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/vsoj0zeeWP
We are deeply saddened by the loss of former Gator WR Reche Caldwell.— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) June 7, 2020
Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. pic.twitter.com/J86KUj7yEw
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 Caldwell 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.
Harrison Smith met Caldwell four years ago through his work as the director of claims for former NFL players at Shenaq Law Firm. Caldwell donated and offered pointers to Smith's TightAction 7v7 team in Tallahassee, Florida.
"Never had a dull moment with him. Was the life of the party," Smith said. "I joked with him about getting back in the weight room. He started to eat healthy. He was always joking and wanted to keep you laughing. He talked to me about helping young men. He made contributions to TightAction and thought it was a great thing. I did talk to him about being careful and watching the crowd around him. He was always trying to look out for everyone."
What stands out most to Harrison, though, is the kindness Caldwell showed him when Harrison's stepdaughter was killed in a head-on car crash in August.
"He called me, texted me ... did whatever he could to help me through my grieving moment," Smith said. "Actually still have the messages."