After 16 NFL seasons, former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson on Monday decided to begin wielding all of his considerable influence off the field, as he announced his retirement.
The 39-year-old Watson, who spent four seasons with the Saints, played his final season in 2019 with New England. Among NFL players, few were as versed on the myriad issues that Watson calmly and intelligently would address, few as openly guided by faith and conscience, and few made themselves as available to break down game results or social issues.
He publicized his retirement intention in a lengthy Instagram post, as the former first-round pick – No. 32 overall to New England in '04 – thanked each organization for which he played (the Saints, Patriots, Ravens and Browns) and their respective ownership groups, along with the thousands of teammates he played alongside.
For the franchises, Watson was a trusted teammate and confidant, and a leader who was familiar with the pulse of the locker room. His off-field contributions and charitable work led to his being named a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award following the 2017 NFL season.
He was the Saints' Walter Payton nominee that year and in 2015, which also landed during his Saints' career, Watson released a book – Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race – And Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.
As a player, Watson was a Super Bowl winner (XXXIX, over Philadelphia in 2004) and a Super Bowl runner-up (XLII, against the Giants in 2007) with the Patriots, with whom he played two stints: from 2004-'09 and in '19.
But his best statistical season came in New Orleans, when, in 2015, he set career highs in receptions (74) and receiving yards (825), and tied his single-season high of six touchdown catches. It was his first season in New Orleans as the No. 1 tight end, after the Saints traded Jimmy Graham. In the previous two seasons with the Saints, '14 and '13, with Graham as the primary receiving threat at tight end and Watson primarily used as a blocker, he caught a combined 39 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns.
He finishes his career with 547 catches for 6,058 yards and 44 touchdowns, and he missed one season (2016) due to a ruptured Achilles.
Watson also is in the record books as the player on the receiving end of Drew Brees' 500th career touchdown pass.