After a career year, tight end Benjamin Watson had multiple teams expressing interest during the early part of the free agency.
It didn't take long to settle on the Ravens, however. The two sides began dialogue in mid-afternoon on Monday and reports of an agreement surfaced Tuesday.
"This time I didn't expect for it to happen this quickly, but the Ravens were pretty aggressive," said Watson, who got a two-year deal worth a reported $7 million ($8 million max).
General Manager Ozzie Newsome said he evaluated about eight free-agent tight ends. Watson was the next-to-last one he saw, and he immediately knew Watson was the player he wanted.
So Newsome and the Ravens made sure they got him, especially considering tight end Crockett Gillmore's two shoulder surgeries and Nick Boyle's 10-game suspension.
"After the first 10 plays, I go, 'That's the guy we want,'" Newsome said. "We already knew about the intangibles, but to see him, how productive he was on the field, I knew he was the guy we should target."
The Ravens wanted Watson for three reasons, Newsome outlined: on-field production, off-field character and locker-room leadership.
Watson turned 35 years old in December of last season. Despite that, he posted career highs in receptions (74) and yards (825) and tied his career high in touchdowns (six).
Watson has also gained a reputation for being an exemplary figure in the community. He was a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award last season and does a lot of work through his foundation, the Watson One More Foundation.
"[Owner] Steve [Bisciotti] always talked to us about bringing in good people into the organization, and he's at the top of the charts when it comes to that," Newsome said.
Lastly, the Ravens wanted Watson because of the leadership he can provide to the team's other young tight ends. If Dennis Pitta is released, third-year Crockett Gillmore would have been the "veteran" of the group. Gillmore, Boyle and Maxx Williams are all under the age of 25. Watson is heading into his 13th season and has seen a lot of football as he now joins his fourth team.
So why did Watson go with the Ravens?
In summary, he has gained a great respect for the team over the years, he has ties to the area and he thinks he can have a lot of production in purple and black.
Plus, it doesn't hurt when a Hall of Fame tight end calls and wants you to come on board.
"He has got the gold jacket, so I just want to be like him – a little bit like him," Watson said of Newsome with a laugh.
"To have stability at head coach, to have stability in management and also in the ownership, it's a great opportunity to be a part of a winning tradition."
Watson said his mom once texted him, telling him to be careful when playing the Ravens defense. She told him to "watch out for those guys."
"Having played against the Ravens for many years, there's definitely respect there," he said. "There are certain teams in the NFL who have a certain aura about them, and there's a certain respect level that, even if they didn't have the greatest year or whatever, you know that that team is going to be competitive overall."
Watson said he never dreamed of returning to his roots. He was born in Norfolk, Va., and his parents are from the Baltimore-Washington area. They met at the University of Maryland, where Watson's father played defensive end from 1974-1978.
"I just always had a great affinity for this area," Watson said.
Now Watson, who previously played for the Patriots, Browns and Saints, will have a chance to show his stuff in front of his hometown family. And Watson has set his sights high.
The Ravens are a tight-end heavy offense and quarterback Joe Flacco likes to throw to his tight ends. Watson will get a lot of passes his way, especially if Gillmore misses any regular-season action because of his shoulder surgeries.
Watson has played with a lot of good quarterbacks during his career, and he's thrilled to be adding one more to his resume. Watson met Flacco, who is rehabbing at the Under Armour Performance Center, on his first day as a Raven.
"He is definitely one of the elite quarterbacks. I can tell my grandkids that I played with Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and Flacco will definitely be added to that list," Watson said.
"In order to win in this league, you have to have a quarterback who can make all the throws. He makes great decisions. [You need] somebody who can get you out of bad situations, and that just gives you a chance to even win. And so, when you are a free agent like I was, it definitely makes a big difference when you want to go somewhere where you know that there's stability at the quarterback position."