A familiar face is returning to bolster the New England Patriots’ tight end group.
And no, it isn’t Rob Gronkowski.
According to a report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport on Thursday, the Patriots are finalizing a deal that would bring veteran free agent Ben Watson back to New England, where he began his NFL career a decade and a half ago.
Watson’s contract will be a one-year, $3 million deal, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Patriots selected Watson 32nd overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. He spent six seasons with the team, playing in 71 games and catching 167 passes for 2,102 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Watson tallied another 19 catches for 195 yards and three scores in nine playoff games for New England. He was a member of the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXIX championship team but played in just one game that season.
After leaving Foxboro following the 2009 season, Watson played three years with the Cleveland Browns, four with the New Orleans Saints over two stints and two with the Baltimore Ravens, one of which he missed with a torn Achilles. He played in all 16 games for the Saints last season — catching 35 passes on 46 targets for 400 yards and three touchdowns — then announced his retirement, only to change his mind months later.
At 38, Watson will be the Patriots’ second-oldest player behind quarterback Tom Brady, who in December called the tight end “a great man, great father, great husband, great player, great teammate.” He’ll provide valuable experience and production to a position group that lost its top three players (Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister) from last season.
Entering Thursday, the Patriots’ depth chart at tight end consisted of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo and Andrew Beck.
Seferian-Jenkins and LaCosse both signed as free agents this offseason. Anderson and Izzo were with the Patriots last season, but neither appeared in a game, with the former spending nearly the entire season on the practice squad and the latter landing on injured reserve before Week 1. Beck is an undrafted rookie.