Elementary, My Ben Watson
When the Saints traded away All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, Saints fans and fantasy addicts everywhere wondered who'd become Drew Brees's new favorite target. Would he fall back on good old Marques Colston, or start leaning on talented sophomore Brandin Cooks? Maybe an unknown receiver would suddenly start putting up big numbers, as has happened so often in the past.
Nobody expected Graham's backup to step in and take over, but Ben Watson has done exactly that. After the bonkers Saints-Giants Week 8 shootout, Watson is second on the team in catches (38), third in receiving yards (472), and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (3).
The bulk of that production (25 catches, 333 yards, two touchdowns) has come in just the past three games. If he could spend an entire season producing like he has over that stretch, he'd rack up 133 catches for 1,776 yards—numbers far better than any other tight end in history.
So who is this Ben Watson? Must be some young guy right? Fifth-round pick from a couple years ago or something? Nope. He's 34 years old. He'll turn 35 in December. Oh, and he's not a third-day draft pick or an undrafted kid made good, either. Watson's an athletic guy with a naturally big frame who starred at an SEC school and even got a mind-blowing 48 on his Wonderlic. "So why wasn't he a first-rounder?" you may ask.
He was. In fact, he was picked up with the No. 32 overall pick of the 2004 Draft by the New England Patriots fresh off winning the second of their four titles under Bill Belichick. Watson struggled with injuries and opportunity; after six years in New England, he started more than nine games in a season only once.
Watson made some noise in his second stop, Cleveland. In his first season with the Browns, in 2010, Watson started every game for the first and only time in his 12-year career. His 68 catches and 763 yards that season are both career highs—for now.
In Watson's three years in Cleveland, he played for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators, and caught passes from Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, and Brandon Weeden. It's no wonder he signed with New Orleans after his deal with the Browns ran out, even if he had no hope of topping the Saints' depth chart.
After two years of spot duty in Graham's shadow, blocking and catching as needed, Graham was traded away and Watson was named a team captain for the 2015 season. Now, 12 seasons after being a Patriots first-round draft pick, Watson is finally the key cog in an offensive machine driven by a title-winning coach and quarterback.
The Oakland Raiders' free-agent strategy has been a mystery as long as general manager Reggie McKenzie's been in charge. Are they buying? Selling? Getting older? Going young? Are they prioritizing offense or defense? Under McKenzie, the answer is usually all of those things at the same time.
A few eyebrows were raised when they chose to let center Stefan Wisniewski, son of Raiders legend Steve Wisniewski, leave for Jacksonville. After all, the younger Wisniewski wasn't just a Raider legacy; he was an up-and-coming young player on whom they'd spent a second-round pick, finishing up a rookie deal at a non-premium position. Isn't that exactly the kind of player teams love to re-sign?
The move that seemed to go unnoticed: the Raiders signing his replacement, Rodney Hudson.
I'm not sure how the signing flew so low under the radar: Hudson's five-year, $44 million deal made him the highest-paid center in the NFL. He'd earned a deal that big (or, at least, close to it) by excelling for the Kansas City Chiefs—but since the Chiefs were considered contenders and the Raiders considered, well, the Raiders, Hudson's in-division move didn't inspire any articles about changing the balance of power in the AFC West articles.
All season long, Hudson's kept second-year quarterback Derek Carr free of interior pressure, and run around and crushed people at the second level. Rodney Hudson Vines are slowly becoming a thing, and against the Jets he added another must-loop clip to his growing highlight reel:
In the wake of the surprise Raiders victory, head coach Jack Del Rio touted Hudson's play as Pro Bowl worthy, per SiriusXM's Twitter feed, and credited him as the key to the offensive line coming together—which, in turn, has let the Raiders offense succeed, which why the Raiders are a winning team after eight weeks of football.
Hudson's departure isn't the only reason the Chiefs are now a losing team—but at least this one time, McKenzie's scatterbrained free-agency approach looks smart.
A Bad Investment
NFL fans who were alive and self-aware in the 1980s remember stories about "The Turf Monster" injuring players. The hard, unyielding green plastic carpets and uneven seams installed in 1970s brutalist multi-purpose arenas shredded knees and ruined feet. But the concrete monster?
49ers tailback Reggie Bush slipped on a concrete surface at the edge of the Edward Jones Dome playing field. The sudden slide and his subsequent collision with the wall ended up costing Bush his ACL. This came a week after Browns quarterback Josh McCown injured his shoulder the same way.
The Edward Jones Dome is an aging facility nobody wants to sink money into. The terms of the Rams' lease requires the stadium to remain state-of-the-art, but that simply hasn't happened. The Rams and local government have repeatedly failed to agree on renovations and updates, which has been a trigger for the Rams to break the lease and a catalyst for their efforts to move to Los Angeles.
If players keep getting injured, the Rams may want to spend a little less time looking toward the West Coast and more time focusing on their current home turf.