posted on Aug, 16 2004 @ 09:02 AM
A long Sunday night of negotiations culminated in an early morning contract agreement between the New England Patriots and first-round draft choice
Ben Watson, ESPN.com has learned, and the rookie tight end will report Monday to training camp.
The deal, struck at about 1 a.m. Monday, is for six years, has a total potential value of $13.5 million, and combined bonus money of $4 million. It
ends the longest training camp holdout by a rookie since Patriots owner Bob Kraft purchased the franchise in 1994, and concludes a strange saga in
which Watson switched agents last week.
With the agreement, there are now only two draft choices, first-round quarterback Philip Rivers of San Diego and Indianapolis second-round safety Bob
Sanders, who have not reached contract terms. The final choice in the first round, it is uncertain when Watson will actually join Pats practices.
Despite optimistic reports suggesting Watson was close to an agreement, his new agent told ESPN.com on Sunday afternoon the two sides remained far
apart on a resolution.
In fact, agent Pat Dye Jr., who was just retained by Watson on Friday, said he did not send his initial contract proposal to New England officials
until Sunday afternoon, and that he was awaiting the team's response. Dye and Patriots chief administrative counsel Jack Mula then worked most of the
day crafting a deal.
ESPN.com has learned that the Patriots recently lowered the signing bonus amount in their first proposal to Watson by $500,000. The team was said to
be prepared to cut yet another half-million dollars from the signing bonus if Watson missed the Friday night preseason opener, which he obviously did.
It was not immediately known if those cuts were reflected in the final agreement.
Dye took over the representation of Watson on Friday after the player and agent Tom Condon parted ways. It remains unclear who initiated that action.
But Condon told ESPN.com two weeks ago that he would not negotiate a six-year deal -- an unusually lengthy period for a player taken in the first
round, but Patriots officials held firm. Condon suggested that he would resign rather than sign such a deal.
Typically, once a player and agent split, there is a five-day waiting period, mandated by the NFL Players Association, before the player can retain
new representation. Condon waived the five-day waiting period, however, so that Dye could open negotiations.
New England was steadfast in demanding a six-year contract, which will keep Watson from becoming a free agent and renegotiating for a better deal for
longer than most first-round draft picks, and Watson and his family last week opted to accept it. Dye, who had recruited Watson when the tight end
left Georgia, acknowledged that his job was to salvage the best six-year deal possible for the final prospect selected in the first round.
The Patriots signed the earlier of their two first round picks, former Miami defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, to a six-year contract. The team had not
budged from its stance that the length of the Watson deal was not negotiable.
Watson 23, began his college career at Duke before transferring to Georgia following the 1999 season. Between the two schools, he played in 48 games
and started 26 contests. He had 73 receptions for 945 yards and seven touchdowns.