Ben Watson 'hungry' to play at high level despite being Ravens' oldest player

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Benjamin Watson hasn't thought about retirement even though he's the Baltimore Ravens oldest player at age 36. His focus is earning the respect of the teammates and fans of his new team after his first season with the Ravens was cut short by a season-ending Achilles injury in the preseason.

"I'm still hungry to do that," Watson said. "I'm rehabbing not only to play but to play well."

Watson was aggressively pursued by the Ravens last year and was the team's first free-agent signing in the 2015 offseason. He was coming off a career year and was looking to be a strong weapon in Baltimore's offense before tearing his right Achilles tendon on the first play of a late August preseason game.

What lied ahead was the "toughest, longest and most strenuous rehab" of his career, according to Watson. The expectation has been for Watson to return for training camp, but he's been ahead of schedule in his recovery.

"I'm at the point now where I'm very close," Watson said while promoting his new book, "The New Dad's Playbook," earlier this month. "I'm able to do pretty much everything to some extent. These last couple stages are very important about getting the strength back. The actual Achilles itself is intact."

Watson returns to a situation where the Ravens have plenty of tight ends and not a lot of salary cap room. His base salary this season, which is the final year of his deal, is $3 million. The Ravens, who are among the teams with the least amount of cap room, could get additional room if they get Watson to take a pay cut like Dennis Pitta.

Has Baltimore approached Watson about his contract?

"I'm under contract for another year," Watson said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm good with it. You never know what's in the mix. So far, it's awesome still."

Watson showed he still had a lot left in his career in 2015, when he set personal highs in receptions (74) and receiving yards (825) while with the Saints. He looked to continue that production with the Ravens and started to establish a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco in training camp.

Now, he will have to fight for a spot on what is the deepest position on the Ravens. In addition to Watson, Baltimore brings back Pitta, who led all NFL tight ends in catches, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller.

"The guys who play the best are the guys who are going to play the most," coach John Harbaugh said at the owners meetings in March. "I can’t wait to see how it shakes out."

Watson's biggest battle might be his age. He is the oldest player on the Ravens by at least two years -- punter Sam Koch and linebacker Terrell Suggs are both 34 -- and the second-oldest tight end in the NFL behind San Diego's Antonio Gates.

But wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. proved he could come back from an Achilles injury despite being the team's oldest player. Watson made the point that being sidelined for the entire 2016 season allowed him to avoid the months of wear and tear.

"Physically I'm at a real good place compared to where I'm usually am after having taken a rest after the season," Watson said. "The good thing, if there is a good thing, even though I hated that it happened, I had a long time to recover and to make sure this thing is at a place where I can compete when the time is right."