By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When the Patriots released Ben Watson earlier this month, head coach Bill Belichick said that the team just didn’t have a roster spot for him. When asked on Thursday why the team re-signed the veteran tight end, Belichick stated, “We had a roster spot.”
While the equation may be that simple for a football team, it’s obviously a bit more complex for the player involved. And when that player is 38 years old with a family that includes seven children, getting released midseason carries with it its own set of challenges.
And though Watson has been through just about everything there is to experience during his 16-year NFL career, he explained Thursday how in an effort to teach some lessons to his children over the past few weeks, he came away learning some things himself.
“They were happy. They pulled everything back out,” Watson said of his children bringing their Patriots gear back out, after putting that clothing away for his week of limbo. “We did put it away for a week. But I told them — and this is part of being a father and going through different disappointments and stuff like that — I told them, ‘Look, just because the team fired me or cut Daddy, if you want to be a fan, then that’s fine. I don’t want you all holding the same feelings me and Mommy have right now. I don’t want that to be your burden, even though you want to defend your father. Look, if a week goes by or a day goes by and the kids at school are talking about the game, I want you to feel OK wearing your stuff.’
“So that was … it was a teaching moment. It was a tough moment, but you take whatever’s tough as a father and try to turn it into something teachable, something tangible for them to learn from. And for me to learn from, too.”
Watson announced his retirement late last season, but he came out of his retirement to re-sign with the team and head coach that drafted him in the first round way back in 2004. Watson suffered a concussion during the preseason and then served a four-game suspension for PED use, leading up to what he expected to be an activation for Week 5 in Washington. That activation never came, and Watson learned on Oct. 7 that he was being released. Exactly one week later, he was re-signed.
The 38-year-old Watson said that he understood that Belichick was keeping him on speed dial in the event that a roster spot opened up, but Watson also noted that such an assurance from a coach doesn’t guarantee much.
“I heard him say it, but he’s pretty straight with you all the way he is with us. That’s one thing about him is he doesn’t change his tune. And he told me the same thing,” Watson said about the potential for a return. “Being a veteran player, you know that means you may get a call. You may have moved on in your life, or maybe you haven’t. Or maybe you don’t get a call because other things change, there’s other needs on the roster, certain people get hurt, or you’re playing a certain team that’s playing a certain defense and you need more of this or more of that. And you could go an entire season and not get a call. Every year, a certain number of guys cycle out of the league, and they thought they were going to get a call.
“So when a coach tells you that, at least you know that you’re on his radar. And then you just see how it plays out. I didn’t know if it was going to be seven days or the entire season. But we process it as, ‘OK, if this is right now, how do we move forward?’ And that’s how we were trying to move forward last week.”
Even though he understood the possibilities, the uncertainty wasn’t any easier to deal with.
“I didn’t know. Like I said, sometimes a guy gets released and he’s back in a couple of days. Sometimes, that’s it,” Watson said. “And I just want my career, I know the end is close. You never know how it’s going to end. And so when that happened, there was obviously a lot of disappointment and sadness about it, obviously going through everything I went through to have a chance to play. But you understand that this is part of it. And so we proceed as a family a day at a time. That’s what we try to do.”
Now that he’s back, there won’t be much time for inching back into action. Tight end Matt LaCosse missed practice Thursday and is expected to miss Monday night’s game against the Jets. That opens the door for Watson to run his first regular-season snap with the Patriots since Jan. 10, 2010.
When asked if he believes he can be an instant contributor, Watson didn’t hesitate.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course.”