Patriots' top tight end facing four-game suspension after coming out of retirement

The Patriots depth chart at tight end took a major hit on Sunday after Ben Watson revealed that he's going to be suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season. 

Although the NFL hasn't officially made any announcement about the suspension, Watson explained the situation in a lengthy Facebook post where he admitted to testing positive for testosterone, which is banned in the NFL. 

The reason Watson took the banned substance is because he didn't think he was going to be playing in 2019. The 38-year-old, who spent last season with the Saints, had announced in December that he was going to retire after the 2018 season. Since he was no longer going to be playing football, Watson made the decision to start taking a prescription for testosterone. 

"After every season during my playing career, I visit with a few doctors for health screenings," Watson wrote on Facebook. "During these times we identify the cumulative effects of injuries, stressors, and exertion on my health and formulate an offseason plan for recovery. As a professional athlete for the last 15 years I know very well the limitations on what can be prescribed for my overall health. After my contract expired last March I told my doctors I was finished playing, went through a series of medical tests and was prescribed Bio Identical Testosterone Cypionate to assist in healing my body and mind."

Despite the fact that he was retired, Watson was still subject to random PED testing by the NFL and he was given one in March.  Retired players don't necessarily have to take the test, but if they're even slightly contemplating a possible return, then it makes sense for them to comply. 

"On March 29, nine days after I started therapy, I was randomly tested under our substance policies," Watson wrote. "I complied out of habit, never thinking in that moment I'd want to come back. In late April, some clubs expressed interest in me playing and after much deliberation and prayer, I decided I wanted to return. Considering myself previously retired, I had forgotten all about my test in March until I got a letter on May 3rd saying my results were positive. I was devastated and for obvious reasons did not want to proceed. At that point I knew that my decision to return to play would include a four game suspension and I immediately discussed this new development with the clubs."

The good news for Watson is that his suspension won't be coming as any surprise to the Patriots, and that's because he let them know it was going to happen before he officially signed his deal with the team on May 10

"Ultimately, I decided to pursue another year and on May 9 the Patriots offered me a contract in spite of these circumstances," Watson wrote. "I am excited and thankful to return to New England but very disappointed that I will not be able to play and contribute immediately. This is not how I would want to enter a new locker room and attempt to earn my role on a new team. However, I respect the regulations that have been collectively bargained to promote fairness on the field of play and accept the discipline associated with my infraction."

The loss is definitely a small blow for a Patriots offense that has basically been trying all offseason to replace Rob Gronkowski. Since Gronk's retirement in March, the Patriots have signed Watson, Austin Serferian-Jenkins and undrafted free agent Andrew Beck. The Patriots also added Matt LaCosse in March, meaning New England has added a total of four tight ends during free agency this year. 

Although the Patriots don't have an official depth chart yet, Watson likely would have been at the top of it going into training camp. Watson has prior experience with the Patriots, which is a big reason why Bill Belichick brought him in this year. Watson spent six seasons in New England after the Patriots selected him during the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft

The fact that Watson is going to be hit with a four-game suspension means that he'll miss games against the Steelers, Dolphins (at Miami), Jets and Bills (at Buffalo) to start the season. Although he'll have to sit out those four games, Watson will be able to participate in every training camp practice and preseason game, but he won't be able to practice with the team once the regular season starts. The first game Watson will be eligible to play in 2019 will come in Week 5 when the Patriots play on the road against the Redskins

Watson is coming off a 2018 season where he caught 35 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns while playing in New Orleans. Despite his age, Watson is only four years removed from the biggest season of his career. Back in 2015, the tight end caught 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns with the Saints. 

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories