Reche Caldwell never became an NFL superstar. In fact, ask any New England Patriots fan about him and you’ll probably hear a bunch of expletives. For a short time, Caldwell operated as Tom Brady’s top receiver. But after costing the Patriots a chance at a Super Bowl berth, his life took a much more dramatic tumble that landed him in prison before his tragic death.
Reche Caldwell was briefly Tom Brady’s top target
A rock-solid receiver at the University of Florida, Reche Caldwell entered the NFL as a second-round pick by the San Diego Chargers. He spent four years out west buried down the depth chart. After starting just 14 games, he signed with the Patriots.
The fact that Caldwell operated as Brady’s top target speaks volumes about Bill Belichick’s poor personnel moves. Caldwell received just 149 targets with the Chargers. He ended up nearly matching that total (102) in just one year in New England.
In what turned out to be his penultimate NFL season, the 6-foot, 210-pound wideout set career-highs across the board. In 16 games, he caught 61 passes for 760 yards and four touchdowns. However, most Patriots fans remember Caldwell for the balls he didn’t catch.
In the 2006 AFC Championship, he infamously dropped multiple passes that could have sent the Colts home. Instead, Peyton Manning led a furious comeback that resulted in New England failing to make its fourth Super Bowl appearance with Tom Brady at the helm.
Reche Caldwell’s only season with the Patriots ended in unceremonious fashion. As it turns out, his football failures didn’t even measure up to the trouble he’d face soon enough.
Former Patriots WR went to prison
One year with the Washington Redskins marked the end of Caldwell’s NFL career. He then chose a new path. Unfortunately, that one involved drugs and gambling. Caldwell’s legal troubles resulted in a 27-month prison sentence. And according to David Fleming of ESPN, it all started over a Google search in 2014.
Caldwell says that on May 8 he simply opened up Google, typed in MDMA-Molly-China and watched as dozens of websites popped up offering to sell the drug and ship it right to his front door. (Challenged on this, Caldwell says, “You got your phone on you? Try it. It’s easy.” He is, in fact, correct.) Caldwell did the math: An investment of less than $2,000 could net as much as $180,000 on the street. Three taps of the mouse, a trip to Western Union and “the stuff was on its way,” he says. “So easy and out in the open, I kinda did it just to see if it was a scam.”
Caldwell ended up getting caught when a federal agent posing as a UPS employee had him sign for a package that contained nearly five pounds of MDMA that he ordered.
That didn’t stop the former NFL wideout from getting into trouble. In August of that same year, he got pulled over and charged with multiple traffic violations and cannabis possession. However, luck would be on Caldwell’s side when testing revealed that the drugs he purchased were not pure Molly.
Instead of facing up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1 million, Caldwell got all fines waived and received a sentence of 27 months. Even after serving his time, he once again found himself in legal trouble.
Caldwell faced more legal troubles before he was killed
In January 2020, Kentucky.com reported that Reche Caldwell, along with a number of other former NFL players, were involved in scamming a health program. Caldwell pled guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to commit health fraud.
Caldwell and other former players allegedly filed claims to be paid for high-dollar medical equipment, such as hyperbaric oxygen chambers and cryotherapy machines, that they didn’t actually buy or receive.
The report also stated that Caldwell helped other former players file false insurance claims totaling more than $159,000. Expected to be sentenced in June, Caldwell never got a chance to find out his fate.
On June 7, TMZ reported that the former NFL wideout was shot and killed in Tampa. According to his mother, Caldwell was going on a date with his girlfriend when he had to go back inside his home to grab a jacket. At that point, he was ambushed by several individuals and shot in the chest and leg.
Reche Caldwell died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was just 41 years old.