FOXBORO, Mass. — The two main pillars of the New England Patriots’ organization on Friday applauded former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson.

Watson, who spent his first six NFL seasons in New England from 2004 to 2009 and currently plays for the New Orleans Saints, announced Thursday he will retire from the NFL at the end of this season.

“Ben’s been a great friend for a long time and had an incredible career,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “He’ll certainly be missed. He had a great impact on this team and every team he played for because of the person he is. He’s just a great man, great father, great husband, great player, great teammate. We’ll always be in touch, so I wish him nothing but the very best.”

Watson was one of Brady’s top offensive weapons during the middle years of the Patriots’ dynasty.

From 2005 to 2009 (Watson missed most of his rookie year with an injury), only Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk had more catches than his 165. Only Moss and Welker had more receiving yards than his 2,086, and only Moss had more touchdown catches than his 20.

Watson’s most memorable play, though, didn’t involve catching the ball or throwing a block. It was his incredible chase-down of Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey in the 2005 playoffs that prevented what would have been the longest pick-six in NFL postseason history.

Belichick expressed his appreciation for Watson during his Friday morning news conference. He also saluted longtime Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who will play his final NFL game this Sunday.

“Both great players, guys I have a lot of respect for,” Belichick said. “I knew Ben from when he was here but have stayed in contact with Ben through the course of his career. Kyle, I got to know at the Pro Bowl. That was a long time ago, and I’ve seen him on a regular basis. Both guys are good people, great players who had great careers. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

Watson, who turned 38 earlier this month, played 15 seasons in the NFL after being drafted in the first round in 2004. After his six-year Patriots tenure ended in early 2010, he spent three years with the Cleveland Browns, three with the Saints and two with the Baltimore Ravens before returning to New Orleans this season.

He’s played in all 15 games for the NFC-leading Saints, catching 33 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns, including the 500th of quarterback Drew Brees’ career.

Thumbnail photo via Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports Images