The New England Patriots’ tight end position saw some major turnover during the 2019 offseason. Future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement, Dwayne Allen was released, and Jacob Hollister traded away to the Seattle Seahawks all while Matt LaCosse was added via free agency. Another player came on board relatively late: in early May, the Patriots added veteran Benjamin Watson to the position depth chart.
Just four months after playing what appeared to be his last NFL game, he ended his short-lived retirement to return to the league a one-year deal with the team that draft him in the first round back in 2004. After Watson’s tumultuous offseason continued — he hurt his ankle in preseason, was suspended the first four games of the regular season for a PED violation, and later not activated to the active roster — he found his way onto the Patriots’ 53-man squad.
The 39-year-old stayed their for the rest of the season, and through New England’s playoff loss against the Tennessee Titans. Now, as was the case one year ago, he is headed towards an uncertain future. While Watson has not announced his retirement just yet, he will be a free agent when the new league year starts in March and already hinted towards a departure from the Patriots during a media session after the team’s season-ending defeat.
“You know, it’s difficult. I love playing this game, but there is a time when you definitely have to move on,” Watson said in the locker room. “Won’t be back here next year probably and probably won’t be playing at all. It’s something I tried doing before and it didn’t work. There is only so much your body can take and so much you can put your family through before you want to settle down and figure out what the next chapter of your life is going to be.”
“We’re going to talk about it of course and make family decisions. It’s been a great run and it has been really special to be back here and special to have the opportunity to play the game,” he continued. After getting re-signed to the Patriots’ 53-man roster in October, Watson went on to appear in 10 regular season and one playoff game for the team as one of its top-two at the tight end position alongside the aforementioned Matt LaCosse.
As such, the 16-year veteran caught 20 passes from quarterback Tom Brady for a combined 211 yards — solid albeit unspectacular numbers that were not enough to help lift the Patriots’ offense from its struggles. But despite that and the season ending in disappointing style, Watson felt good about coming out of his retirement shortly after it began to return to an organization with which he had already spent the first six years of his career.
“It was special. It definitely was special,” he said on Saturday. “Obviously, you have a storybook ending in your mind of course, so that is hard. Reconnecting with some of those guys and really seeing how everybody has grown so much. Matthew [Slater] was young, he was a rookie, and now he is one of the leaders on the team. He is inspiring guys to not only be great football players, but to be great husbands and fathers and men.”
Watson has played a similar role on four different teams over the course of his career, one that once again appears to be at a crossroads. Judging by the statements maid after the Titans game, however, it appears as if none of the ways available will eventually lead back to New England.