Watson Won't Measure Saints Return By Previous Stint

Ben Watson Getty

(AP) The value Saints coach Sean Payton sees in Benjamin Watson has little to do with the career-best receiving numbers the veteran tight end put up the last time he played for New Orleans in 2015.

Watson wasn't a featured receiver then, and won't likely be this season, either.

Payton figures he can count on Watson being an exemplary leader in the locker room, a willing role player who'll rarely blow an assignment - and someone who remains skilled enough at age 37 to help Drew Brees punish defenses that pay too much attention to star play-makers such as receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara.

Recalling a 2015 game in which Watson caught 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta, Payton said, ''I don't know that the game plan called for that. It's kind of just how it unfolded.''

''With Ben, you know he's someone that has versatility and he's a super teammate,'' Payton said. ''He's been a real dependable player. ... You know exactly what you're getting and there's a value in that.''

Similarly, Watson said it would be too simplistic to view his 2015 receiving numbers - 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns - as a main reason for his return to New Orleans after two years with Baltimore.

''I don't know what to expect. Every year is different,'' Watson said after a voluntary offseason practice on Thursday. ''Even when I was here the last time ... I was here three years and my role was different every single year.

''You contribute in different ways. You're healthy or not healthy. Another guy's healthy or not healthy. You may be strong in one position and weaker in other positions,'' Watson said. ''There's just this mix that happens every single year and you really don't know what it is, really, until the end of the year.''

While Watson joined the Ravens in 2016, he missed that season because of a right Achilles tear. He came back last season, playing in all 16 games and catching 61 passes for 522 yards and four TDs.

''I proved last year that I can be dependable, that I can play the game and that I can contribute in a number of different ways,'' said Watson, who signed a one-year, $2 million free agent contract with the Saints in late March. ''That's why you sign guys to your team.''

Watson has attended two of three voluntary practices open to media so far this offseason and doesn't seem to have lost the chemistry he'd developed with quarterback Drew Brees, whom Watson calls ''No. 9.''

Watson does not describe himself as the type of dynamic play-maker who'll be Brees' No. 1 option on a lot of plays called, but added, ''When you got a guy like No. 9 who can identify mismatches and knows what the coverage is going to do before it does it, then you get the ball.''

Watson began his career with New England, which made him a late-first-round draft choice out of Georgia in 2004. He was a Super Bowl champion as a seldom-used rookie, but hasn't won a ring since establishing himself as an NFL regular.

Watson views his return to New Orleans as a chance to join a contender, something the Saints weren't when he last played for them in 2015.

Last season, boosted by a core of rookies and second-year players in prominent roles, the Saints came one play away from advancing to the NFC championship game.

''It's about going places where not only do you have some familiarity - you enjoyed being there - but also giving yourself an opportunity to win,'' Watson said. ''Winning is a big deal. It doesn't happen for a lot of players over the course of their career.''

With the Saints, Watson said, ''You have the coaching staff, you have the front office, you have the fan base, you have the quarterback. ... That's definitely made coming to New Orleans very attractive.''

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