The Patriots went to a familiar face to help bolster their tight end position, agreeing to terms with veteran free agent Ben Watson, league sources confirmed to the Globe.
Watson, 38, who met with the Patriots in Foxborough Thursday, will unretire after originally calling it quits shortly after wrapping up his 14th NFL season. He was the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2004 and had 167 catches for 2,102 yards and 20 touchdowns during a six-year run in New England.
Watson had 35 catches for 400 yards and two touchdowns last year for the Saints. He is a proficient blocker and receiver, and has been durable. Other than in 2016, when Watson missed the whole year with a torn Achilles’, he has missed just one game in his last six seasons on the field.
Watson likely won’t be an every-down player at his age, but he provides valuable depth at tight end for the Patriots, who are looking to replace the retired Rob Gronkowski. Matt LaCosse, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ryan Izzo, and undrafted rookie Andrew Beck are the other tight ends on the roster.
Watson won a Super Bowl in his rookie season with the Patriots, though he played in just one game that season. In his other five years in New England, Watson caught 20 touchdown passes and averaged 417 receiving yards per season.
He also authored one of the greatest hustle plays in Patriots history in the 2006 playoff loss to the Broncos, racing 100-plus yards to chase down cornerback Champ Bailey and knock him out of bounds for what should have been a touchback (but was ruled out of bounds at the 1).
After his first stint in New England, Watson played three seasons with the Browns (2010-12), then three with the Saints (2013-15), and one with the Ravens (2017) before returning to New Orleans in 2018. He missed the entire 2016 season with Baltimore because of an Achilles’ tendon injury.
For his career, Watson has 530 receptions for 5,885 yards and 44 TDs.
During an interview with the Globe last summer, Watson acknowledged that he had some tough times during his New England tenure and said immaturity played a role in that.
“There were times when I was miserable — because it was tough,’’ he said then. “Coach [Bill] Belichick — this is the old Coach Belichick during two-a-days — it was a grind, and he would yell at you in the meetings and things like that.
“And as a young player coming in from college, I struggled a lot with that. I enjoyed the winning, obviously, but there were days going to practice and everything, for me, that were really hard. It was really hard.
“But now, looking back, as a more mature player and more mature person, I can appreciate some of the things that go on there.’’
One of Boston’s championship teams made it to the White House this spring, with the Red Sox making their visit Thursday to be honored by President Donald Trump. But the Patriots have not yet been able to find a date that works.
A team spokesman said the Patriots and the White House have been trading dates throughout April and May for a visit, but one side or the other has had a conflict each time.
The Patriots usually have visited the White House by this time in the spring after a Super Bowl victory. Four of their previous five visits have come in April, and the 2004 visit came on May 10.
The Patriots do play games at Washington and Baltimore in the fall, but it is not likely that Belichick would take the time out of the road schedule to visit the White House.
Three rookies signed up
The Patriots are holding their rookie minicamp Friday to Sunday, and several draft picks signed their contracts on Thursday.
Per league sources, second-round cornerback Joejuan Williams, third-round offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, and fourth-round quarterback Jarrett Stidham signed their four-year contracts. Only terms for Cajuste were known. He signed a four-year deal worth $3,482,180, which includes a $822,180 signing bonus.
League sources said that first-round pick N’Keal Harry and third-round pick Chase Winovich were not close to signing as of Thursday. But Winovich signed an injury waiver, which guarantees he would receive the same rookie contract in case of an injury this weekend at minicamp, and Harry likely did, as well. Harry, a late-first-round pick, and Winovich, a mid-third-round pick, were taken in two of the more complicated draft spots, and have more guarantees and clauses to bargain than do most draft picks.