FOXBORO — New England Patriots tight end spent Ben Watson spent six seasons with the franchise before becoming a free agent. The Patriots’ 2004 first-round pick did not hear from the team about a second contract.
Linebacker Jamie Collins was shipped out of New England in 2016 after a Pro-Bowl season the year before. The Collins’ trade, which generated a mere third-round pick in return, came as a shock to many.
Both have returned in 2019, and while the awkwardness may cause tension for some, both Watson and Collins said they are looking forward to their second stint in New England rather than looking back on their first.
The past is the past.
“When I left here in 2009, it was time for me to go,” Watson said following the third session of organized team activities on Thursday at Gillette Stadium. “I was a free agent. The team didn’t really make a play for me to come back. It was time for me to move on, and that was part of my path.”
Unlike Watson, Collins was exiled from the football dream in New England to a football nightmare in Cleveland in October 2016.
“It was just a change in destination, man,” Collins said Thursday. “I’m a professional and I’ve got to be professional about the business. Business is business. You can’t get upset. I’m just trying to pick up where I left off and move on.”
Collins admitted he was a bit surprised about the reunion with coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots. He signed a one-year deal with the Patriots on a team-friendly deal, earning a $150,000 signing bonus with a majority of his agreement including minimal guarantees.
“I was surprised, but then again, I wasn’t,” Collins said. “Because like I said, I’m just a free agent, so obviously a lot of teams are going to contact you or whatever. That’s just the business of the game. I’m always surprised no matter what, like I’m surprised right now, being in this position.”
Watson said he did not imagine a return until this past April, when he started considering ending his retirement. New England quickly became one of only two places he would come out of retirement for, along with New Orleans where he spent four of his last five seasons. The 38-year-old Watson signed a one-year deal with the Patriots for $3 million.
“You never know in the league,” Watson said. “You never know if one practice is going to be your last day playing football, honestly. To play for this length of time, I consider it a blessing. I don’t think it’s me, I think God just provided an opportunity for me to keep going. You never know if you’re going to come back, but I’m glad that I am.”
Are there any differences from the first stint to the second?
“It’s been a decade, but there are some familiar faces,” Watson said. “We’re all old now, Julian (Edelman) and (Matt) Slater, (Stephen) Gostkowski, Tom (Brady) obviously. (Jerrod) Mayo is back coaching. But a lot of the guys are still here so there are some familiarities, which makes it good. But its also a different decade of football.”
Collins said the familiarity was a key reason why he decided to give Foxboro another chance too.
“Yeah, I mean, I started here and to have the opportunity to come back after starting my career here,” Collins said, “that was a big factor.”