Cleveland (WOIO) - After three years with the Browns, it seems clear that Benjamin Watson is moving on. When I sat down with the veteran tight end on Tuesday, one week before free agency officially kicks off, he still hadn't heard from the team, so...while he's not ruling out a return, he admitted it seems unlikely.
Too bad. Ben's one of my three favorite athletes that I've covered, in 25 years in the business, the other two being former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith, and former Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy. Those three, by the way, have a lot in common. They're incredibly bright, very forthcoming, brutally honest, and obviously, very talented athletes.
It says a lot about Ben that, when I asked him who could have a breakout season for the Browns in 2013, he mentioned Josh Gordon, the young wide receiver, and then Jordan Cameron, the young tight end who'll be replacing Watson if he leaves. The two men had adjacent lockers last season, and it was clear throughout the year that Ben was mentoring Jordan. Classy, but not surprising.
I agree that the sky's the limit for Cameron, especially in Coach Chud's tight-end friendly offense. But I believe the Browns will miss Watson, on the field and off. On the field, he's as reliable as they come, pulling in 49 passes last season for three touchdowns and more than 500 yards. Off the field, he's a tremendous locker room presence, a true leader, active in the players' union, as well as the community. It simply comes down to the Browns wanting to go younger, and cheaper.
That also appears to be the case with Phil Dawson, the last remaining original Brown (expansion version). It simply doesn't make sense to let him go. Forget his age. He's automatic, and the time will come, when the Browns are good, that they're going to miss his talents, in a most crucial situation.
As for other free agents, the Browns have said they're not going to make a splash, despite being $48 million under the salary cap. I hope that's just a smoke screen. They could obviously use some immediate help at linebacker, as they make the shift to a 3-4 hybrid, and at cornerback, and I mean game-changers.
The market opens Tuesday, March 12th. For Browns fans, it brings hope, and maybe even excitement. For a couple of Browns players, though, it brings an exit. And that's a shame.
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