FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson said Thursday that he began having second thoughts about his retirement about a month ago, but he was only willing to return for a 16th season with a few teams.
Watson signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Patriots on May 9, and he is now one of the top options to potentially help fill the void created by Rob Gronkowski‘s retirement.
Watson, 38, called Gronkowski a “fabulous player” whom he has watched for years, but said Gronkowski’s retirement wasn’t a catalyst for him to change his mind. Even with the sting of not playing in the Saints’ crushing loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game after he had been diagnosed with appendicitis, Watson had been moving forward in retirement.
“I started looking into other opportunities — broadcasting, player development. I was actively looking for other options, and had a few options as well,” Watson said after participating in the Patriots’ voluntary organized team activity Thursday. “Then as time passed — two months, three months — I started thinking, ‘Maybe I could do it one more time. Let’s see what’s out there.’
“… It was more of a family decision. My wife [Kirsten] and I talking about what that would look like for our family, and just kind of weighing the pros and cons.”
As for why the Saints and Patriots were atop his list, Watson said the answer was fairly easy.
“We live in New Orleans now, obviously I just played there last year, and we love that community there,” Watson said. “The kids have a lot of friends in school. Our church. Just the city itself, we really love the people there.
“And obviously [New England], it’s a place where we started [as a first-round draft pick in 2004]. When I came here, I was a rookie and wasn’t married. Now we have seven kids and have been married 13 years. So this place is always special to us as well. … Having to uproot and go to a place that was new would have been tough for us.”
The 6-foot-3, 251-pound Watson totaled 35 receptions for 400 yards and two touchdowns last season. Watson said he has always kept in touch with quarterback Tom Brady, joking that his texts are usually to congratulate Brady on another Super Bowl win, while Brady’s texts are to congratulate him on another new baby.
“There were two clubs, when I was retired, where I said, ‘If I were to play again, I’d love to go somewhere I’ve been before or stay in New Orleans,'” he said. “Moving here as a rookie at 22 years old, and now coming back with a whole tribe, that’s something that’s going to be fun for all of us.”