Although no one knows whether Benjamin Watson can come close to repeating last season's career year, one certainty is how much the Baltimore Ravens wanted the veteran tight end. Watson will go down as one of the more unexpected signings, based on how the Ravens typically do business in free agency.
This is the first time the Ravens have reached an agreement with another team's free agent during the four-year history of the negotiating period. The deal can't be made official until the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Watson is only the fifth unrestricted free agent to be signed by Baltimore in the past six offseasons. The Ravens prefer cap cuts because they don't count against compensatory picks. But the Ravens had to be aggressive in order to pry Watson from the New Orleans Saints, who reportedly wanted to keep him and are now thin at that position.
Why did the Ravens want Watson so badly? Baltimore prides itself on being a tight end-friendly offense, and the Ravens needed an experienced and durable one. Watson is known for being a leader after 13 seasons in the NFL, and he has missed only one game the past four seasons. The addition of Watson reveals the Ravens' concern about Crockett Gillmore's availability this season (two shoulder surgeries this offseason), Nick Boyle's suspension (10 games for performance-enhancing drugs) and Dennis Pitta's future (a potential post-June 1 salary cap cut).
This represents the Ravens' second gift to quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed a record three-year extension last week. Flacco has an affinity for throwing to tight ends, from Todd Heap to Pitta to Owen Daniels. Watson had one of those out-of-nowhere seasons last year, with 74 receptions (seventh among tight ends) for 825 yards (eighth) and six touchdowns (seventh).
It's probably unlikely Watson will come close to those numbers this season. He caught more than 50 passes only twice in his career, and he has been held to fewer than 500 yards receiving in eight of his 13 seasons.
However, for Baltimore, Watson will be just as valuable in the locker room as on the field. The Ravens' top three tight ends last season -- Gillmore, Williams and Boyle -- are all under the age of 25. Watson is 35, and he has been part of five playoff teams, including the 2004 Super Bowl champions. This is important for the entire Ravens team, after it parted ways with linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty.
The Ravens clearly targeted Watson heading into free agency. They wanted him more than Daniels, who was with the team in 2014, and Scott Chandler, who drew interest from Baltimore the previous offseason. Baltimore was able to get Watson by acting swiftly and, quite frankly, in a manner unlike the Ravens in recent years.