Saints excuse Watson from camp, let him seek trade

Two-year veteran Courtney Watson, at one point regarded as the long-term solution to the New Orleans Saints' lingering problems at middle linebacker, appears now to be a short-timer with the team.

New Orleans officials have excused Watson, the team's second-round choice in the 2004 draft, from this weekend's full-squad minicamp, and coach Sean Payton acknowledged the Saints have granted the former Notre Dame star permission to seek potential trade partners.

Watson, 25, was actually traded to the Miami Dolphins last month in a one-for-one swap that sent three-year veteran linebacker Eddie Moore to the Saints. The deal was voided, however, when Moore, also a former second-round choice, failed the physical examination administered by the Saints' medical staff.

At a rookie minicamp last month, Payton said he had discussed Watson's status with him, and suggested he would return to the Saints, at least temporarily. But the awkward nature of the situation, with Watson aware that he did not fit into the plans of the new Saints' coaching staff, clearly prompted the team to request that he not attend this weekend's practices.

Two other players the Saints have been shopping in trade talks during the offseason, safety Dwight Smith and tailback Michael Bennett, are attending the minicamp.

The situation with Watson is indicative of how a player's status can be affected when there is a coaching change. Under former coach Jim Haslett, dismissed after the 2005 season, Watson was generally regarded as a promising player. But the Saints say the scheme being installed by new defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs is not a good fit for Watson, who started 14 games in two seasons with the team.

New Orleans added four veteran linebackers in free agency this spring, including the Friday acquisitions of Tommy Polley and Jay Foreman, and that made Watson even more expendable.

If the Saints can't find a trade partner, Watson could be released, probably before the start of training camp.

The 60th player chosen in the 2004 draft, Watson signed a five-year, $2.98 million contract with the Saints, including a $1.052 million signing bonus. Releasing Watson would mean New Orleans spent $1.59 million on him in two years, with only a modest return. Watson voided the fifth season of the deal, and has two years left on the contract, at base salaries of $425,000 for 2006 and $460,000 for 2007.

In 21 appearances, Watson has 115 tackles, three sacks and three passes defensed. His 2005 season was marred by a DUI arrest in October, and then a sprained knee sidelined him for the final seven games of the year, which ended with him on the injured reserve list.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.