OWINGS MILLS -- With Crockett Gillmore dealing with shoulder injuries and Nick Boyle facing a 10-game suspension, tight end suddenly became a position of need for the Ravens in free agency.
And it didn’t take long for general manager Ozzie Newsome to figure out he wanted to target veteran Ben Watson.
Newsome said the Ravens watched tape of about eight potential free agent tight ends, and “after the first 10 plays (watching Watson) I go, ’That’s the guy we want.’ “
Indeed, the Ravens signed Watson to a two-year deal worth a reported $8 million as soon as free agency began on Wednesday -– a dramatic departure from Newsome’s usual patience early in free agency.
Watson, 35, is coming off a career year, with 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns in his third season with the Saints. Watson’s production last year nearly equaled that of the Ravens three tight ends –- Gillmore, Boyle and Maxx Williams totaled 83 catches for 833 yards and five touchdowns.
At Watson’s introductory news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center on Thursday, Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end himself, called Watson’s production last season “unbelievable,” and also emphasized his durability, noting he played over 90 percent of the offensive snaps for the Saints.
Newsome acknowledged that Gillmore’s shoulder surgeries and Boyle’s suspension ”kind of changed how we would approach free agency. Tight end, at one point, was not a priority but it became one because of those two situations. We were lucky to be able to match our need to a person like Ben."
“Our coaching staff was convinced this was the perfect fit for what we want to do offensively,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re a balanced offense. He’s a run blocker, he’s very productive in the pass game, he can run all the routes, he makes plays in tight areas, he makes third-down conversions.”
Watson, a Norfolk, Virginia, native, said he was excited to join an organization he has squared off with plenty of times in a career that has included six seasons with the Patriots, three with the Browns and three with the Saints.
““This is an organization that I think very highly of,” Watson said.
“To have stability at head coach, to have stability in management, and also in ownership, this is a great opportunity to be a part of a winning tradition.”
Newsome also praised Watson’s character, saying he was “at the top of the charts” and will be a mentor for the team’s young tight ends. “He’ll offer so much to those young guys.”