Spring 2021 Magazine

Benjamin Watson officially retires after 16-year NFL career in which 'God repeatedly showed up'

Tight end Benjamin Watson officially announced Monday that he is retiring from the NFL, capping a 16-year career that saw him play for and greatly impact four teams — the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. The 39-year-old husband and father of seven revealed the news with a lengthy message on his social media channels.

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He began by recalling a message from his father that he took to heart at a young age: “Great effort didn’t require a lot of skill or talent; just a large amount of ‘want to.” That led him to fulfill his dream of becoming a college football player at Duke and Georgia, and later his dream of competing in the NFL.

He was a first-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2004, but said injuries, worry, anxiety and despair made the first few years difficult. However, “With a wife who loved me more than I loved myself, and the work of God’s grace, freedom came and the latter years of my career proved more fruitful and enjoyable than the beginning.”

Watson finishes his career with 205 regular-season games, 547 receptions, 6,058 yards, and 44 touchdowns over 16 years, though he missed the 2016 season due to injury.

“As a football player, I did not achieve every goal I set for myself. I came up short more times than I would like to count,” he wrote. “But I can say, in season and out of season, in wins and losses, after a ruptured Achilles, ruptured disc, torn ACL, concussions, cross country relocations and several other setbacks common to our sport I was never outworked and never backed down from each challenge. The prospect of what could be drove me to keep fighting time after time. Ironically, it was through these cycles of perseverance that God repeatedly showed up and worked in ways I would have never expected, imagined or even desired in my limited mind.”

Watson said that as a young child he wanted to be “a football player and a missionary.” He wrote, “For the past 16 seasons God has granted me the opportunity to do both.”

He considered retirement prior to the 2018 season, but was convinced to keep playing after receiving an offer to return to the Saints. And he did retire prior to the 2019 season, but came back after he was offered a contract with the Patriots, his original NFL team.

Everywhere Watson has been, he’s strived to make a positive influence.

“It’s always been our desire to impact the community we’re in right now,” Watson told us over at The Increase, adding, “However we can serve others and love on people, telling them about the Lord with a sense of urgency, we will. We might not have much time, but we still want to make a big impact.”

That he has throughout his career. Watson has been a two-time finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, an author of two books, and very outspoken on social issues and race — especially after a viral Facebook post of his on racial issues surrounding the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Mo.

Through it all, Watson has boldly proclaimed his faith in Jesus.

“God doesn’t call us to live out a faith in secret; we’re called to live out a public faith, letting people see that while we are imperfect, we are following our God with a heart fully devoted to Him,” Watson said on The Increase.

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— NEW PODCAST: Benjamin Watson, New Orleans Saints Tight End