The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s offseason acquisitions at tight end.
Name: Benjamin Watson
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 84
Opening day age: 38
Size: 6’3, 255 lbs.
2018 review: Following a three-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens, Benjamin Watson returned to the New Orleans Saints in 2018 via a one-year, $2 million contract — an investment that paid off for the team as the veteran saw considerable action both in terms of playing time and as its top receiving tight end. As such, Watson produced a solid fifteenth NFL season despite his comparatively advanced age.
All in all, the former Patriots first-round draft pick appeared in all sixteen of the Saints’ regular season games and was on the field for 48.2% of their offensive snaps (507 of 1,051). While trailing fellow tight end Josh Hill when it came to playing time, Watson was New Orleans’ most productive player at the position: he caught 35 of the 46 passes thrown his way for a combined 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Watson, who also was the recipient of quarterback Drew Brees’ 500th touchdown, was not just a solid contributor as a pass catcher: he also performed well when serving as a blocker. Whether it was pass protection — Watson gave up only four pressures all year long and did not surrender a single sack — or run blocking, the Georgia product looked comfortable no matter what the Saints asked him to do. The same also was true about lining up all over the formation.
Unfortunately, he was unable to build on his solid regular season when the playoffs came around. In the divisional round against the Philadelphia Eagles, he was used on 26 of a possible 77 offensive snaps (33.8%) but caught only a single 12-yard pass. One week later against the Los Angeles Rams, he was inactive altogether: appendicitis forced Watson to miss what turned out to be the Saints’ final game of the year.
Overall, the 2018 campaign was a successful one for Watson — but it probably did not have the end he had anticipated when he announced his upcoming retirement in late December. Nevertheless, he stepped away from the game with an impressive career to look back on that included a Super Bowl victory with New England as well as a Bart Starr Award. Speaking of New England:
2019 preview: Not even five months after first announcing his retirement, and four months removed from his final game in the NFL, Watson returned to the league and the team where his career began: on May 10, he signed a one-year, $2.35 million contract with the Patriots — a deal including $600,000 in guarantees that essentially make the veteran a lock to be on the world champions’ 53-man roster this season.
That being said, he will not be on the opening day squad. After all, Watson himself announced just two weeks after rejoining the Patriots that he had failed a drug test earlier during the offseason and that he would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Nevertheless, the 38-year-old will be back in uniform at some point and is then expected to play a considerable role as either the team’s first or second tight end.
As such, Watson will likely share snaps with fellow offseason acquisition Matt LaCosse. How exactly their roles will look like this year remains to be seen, but it would not be a surprise if Watson was used in the same way the Patriots used him back during his first six years with the club: as a classic all-around tight end that is capable of lining up both in-line as a blocker and split out wide or in the slot as a pass catcher.
In this role, Watson will likely see plenty of action and his fair share of targets in the passing game. And if the first three weeks of training camp are any indication, he should be ready for it.