This could be a transitional year for the New England Patriots with the future of Tom Brady and other long-time members of the team in question. As the first major moves of free agency kicked into action, New England Patriots veteran TE Ben Watson announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, and his departure could open the door for a major pick-up at his position.
Ben Watson Addresses Patriots Nation and the Team Pays Respect
The 39-year-old Watson was a first-round pick in 2004 and he played seven of his 15 seasons in the NFL with the Patriots, including the first six and the final one in 2019. Watson retires as the 24th most-prolific pass catcher in Patriot history and No. 18 on the team’s all-time TD reception list. After a string of four consecutive seasons without missing a game, Watson played in just 10 of the Patriots’ contests in 2019.
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The Right Time for Watson to Walk Away, But Who’s Up Next?
Based on his age, it wasn’t a surprise to see him walk away. That said, Watson’s absence leaves a bit of a hole for the Patriots to fill at TE. The team would seemingly have to turn to Matt LaCosse or Ryan Izzo as starters unless they look to the draft or free agency.
Neither LaCosse or Izzo has the experience or upside to step in and start at a position that has been so important to New England’s success throughout the Brady and Bill Belichick era.
Henry is Off the Board
The team was thought to potentially be interested in signing free-agent tight ends Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry. However, Hooper agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns on Monday, and Henry was franchise tagged. The Baltimore Ravens then sent Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons in a trade.
Hurst was said to be a player on the Patriots’ radar. With Watson gone, Hurst, Hooper, and Henry not available, the Patriots have to look at another veteran to likely become the starter.
Who Else Might Fill in for Watson?
There are a couple of options. The 29-year-old veteran Tyler Eifert, 30-year-old Jordan Reed and perhaps most intriguing, the 27-year-old Eric Ebron should all be candidates under consideration.
Eifert has been injury-plagued his entire career, though he did play in all 16 games last season. It was the first time in his career he’s reached that mark. However, he’s always had excellent hands and pass-catching ability. Can he stay healthy is the big question? Reed has battled injuries in a major way. He missed the entire 2019 season and has only played in 19 games combined over the last three seasons.
He had established himself as a weapon in the passing game from the TE position, but his lack of durability could scare teams off.
Ebron is a name that has come up in conjunction with the Patriots’ need at TE before. He is the youngest of the top available free-agent tight ends and would figure to be the No. 1 option on the team’s list of players to consider.