Benjamin Watson had had an eventful ten months. After originally announcing his retirement from the NFL last December and playing his final game in January, the veteran returned to the league in mid-May to sign a deal with the New England Patriots — the team that drafted him 32nd overall back in 2004. Watson spent the entire offseason with the Patriots but had to start the regular season sidelined because of a suspension.
Following his league-mandated four-game absence, however, the veteran did not return to New England’s 53-man roster and was instead released by the team. His stint on the open market did not last long, though, as the Patriots re-signed him earlier this week to add depth to their tight end position. And with Matt LaCosse dealing with a knee injury, the expectation is that Watson will play his first game of the season on Monday.
“It’s been a while, so I’m excited to play a real football game Monday night, no less. It doesn’t get any bigger than that, so I’m definitely looking forward to playing a real football game against a real opponent on live TV. It’s going to be really exciting,” said the 38-year-old about what will be his first non-preseason in-game action in nine months — and his first game in a Patriots uniform since the 2009 season.
“It’s a work in progress. Definitely a work in progress. It can get better,” added Watson. “That comes with me getting acclimated to playing again. It comes with gaining trust. We talk a lot about trust and being dependable, those types of things build day after day. And so we’re always in that process no matter if it’s Week 7 or Week 17. It can always be better. And that’s what we’re doing not only in the film room but also on the practice field.”
How Watson’s role will look like upon his return remains to be seen, but his experience not just in the NFL but also of playing alongside quarterback Tom Brady certainly will make for an easier transition back onto the field — one that had to be postponed after the former first-round draft pick was not activated coming off his suspension. For Watson, the experience was a difficult one as he said earlier this week.
“Sometimes a guy gets released and he’s back in a couple of days. Sometimes that’s it. And at this point in my career, I know the end is close. You never know how it’s going to end,” he said. “So when that happened, it was obviously a lot of disappointment, sadness about it, obviously going through everything I went through to have a chance to play. But you understand that this is part of it and so you proceed as a family a day at a time.”
“That’s what we try to do,” added Watson. “Being a veteran player you know that means you may get a call, you may have moved on with your life, or maybe you haven’t, or maybe you don’t get a call because other things changed and there’s other needs on the roster — some people get hurt, you’re playing a certain team and a certain defense and your need more of this or need more of that. You could go an entire season and not get a call.”
“Every year a certain number of guys circle around the league and they thought they were going to get a call. When a coach tells you that, at leas you know that you’re on his radar and then you just see how it plays out,” he continued. For Watson, everything played out well in the end: he did return to the Patriots after a few days and also saw his entire $800,000 salary become guaranteed upon re-signing with the club.
Now, all that remains is for the move to also pay off from the team’s perspective. With LaCosse injured and the Patriots getting only limited production out of their tight end spot six games into the season, especially in the passing game, maybe Watson will be given a notable role within the club’s attack. For what it’s worth, after all, he already saw considerable action with the first-team offense during training camp.