Right after the final home game of the season, following a beautiful beatdown of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Benjamin Watson had the following to tweet:
— Benjamin Watson (@BenjaminSWatson) December 28, 2015
In some ways that felt like a passing of the torch and a farewell to the Saints. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it and it was merely a goodbye to the 2015 season. But there’s a lot of context clues for why Benjamin Watson could be calling it a career. Watson is coming off the best season of his career, finishing with 74 catches for 825 yards and 6 touchdowns. Those are all career highs for the tight end who just turned 35 in December. Worth noting that Jimmy Graham produced 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns last season – not that much more. And this year, in a season cut short by injury, he had 48 catches for 605 yards and 2 touchdowns. Watson’s durability playing in 16 games the last two seasons has been impressive, especially this year as he’s been a full time starter. But while he’s kept healthy and produced more than ever, you have to wonder if the timing is right for him to walk away. He has to be considering it. If you follow Watson, you know all about his book. He’s been promoting it like crazy and it’s had a lot of success so far. He’s also a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his contributions off the field. Watson is set up for a very fruitful long after his playing days are over, effective the second he retires. Watson also has five kids and is known as a dedicated family man. The commitment to being an NFL player takes a lot of time away from family:
And he’s been busy this offseason doing a number of book tours, signings and the following:
— Benjamin Watson (@BenjaminSWatson) January 27, 2016
Lastly, there’s the whole money thing. Watson isn’t a stupid guy, I doubt he’s coming back to the Saints for the vet’s minimum at 35 coming off the best season of his career. And I’m not sure the Saints can afford to pay a 35 year old tight end a substantial 1 year deal given their cap problems. Lastly, I doubt Watson really wants to play for anyone else at this point. He’s got so much going on in his life off the field, he could easily make that transition now.
So the reality is Watson may not be a Saint, or even in the NFL come the 2016 season. It’s not that he can’t play, it’s that he doesn’t need to play. So where does that leave the Saints?
Unfortunately they are exposed to losing the two primary backups, too. Michael Hoomanawanui is an unrestricted free agent and Josh Hill is a restricted free agent. It’s should be fairly simple to retain both, especially Hill who they can tender and then potentially match any offer sheet that presents itself. Beyond that there’s three other tight ends under contract who are long shots to make the roster.
Do the Saints keep Hill and Hooman and find a veteran to replace Watson? Does Watson return to the Saints? Is this the time where the Saints draft their tight end of the future? How do you see this playing out?