FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The gist of their communication is about to change.
Still texters after all these years, Ben Watson and Tom Brady are teammates for the second time in their careers.
"I've texted (him)," Watson said following Thursday's organized team activities on the practice fields located behind Gillette Stadium. "We text every now and then, every so often. It's usually, 'Congratulations, you won another Super Bowl,' or something like that. Or for me it's, 'Congratulations, you had another baby,' you know, something like that. We talk every now and then, but I look forward to seeing him in a couple of weeks."
With Brady opting to skip the Patriots' OTAs again this year, face-to-face reunion will have to wait until June 4-6 when the team is scheduled to hold its mandatory mini-camp in Foxborough.
Still, there are some familiar faces to be seen, ones that were here during Watson's initial stint in New England, six seasons dating to 2004 when he broke into the NFL as a first-round draft choice out of the University of Georgia.
"It's been a decade (since he left in 2009)," said Watson, "but there are also familiar faces as well (that are) old now. Julian (wide receiver Julian Edelman) and Slate (special teamer Matthew Slater) and (place-kicker Stephen) Gostkowski, Tom obviously, (former linebacker Jerod) Mayo's back and coaching (the inside linebackers), and obviously the coaching staff has had some changes, but a lot of guys are still here so there are some familiar faces which makes it good. But it's also a different decade of football."
Thirty-eight years old, Watson had retired, walked away from the game following the 2018 season, a decade-and-half in the league spent with the Patriots (2004-2009), the Cleveland Browns (remaining with them through 2012 after signing as a free agent in 2010), the New Orleans Saints (2013-15 and 2018) and the Baltimore Ravens (2016-17).
"I was retired," Watson, who said he was pondering a post-playing career, perhaps in broadcasting or player development. "I considered myself retired. I was processing as such and I was moving forward as such until late in April I started thinking about (returning)."
The retirement of Rob Gronkowski, more than eight years his younger (Gronkowski just turned 30 on May 14), in late March, he said, had nothing with his decision.
"That wasn't a factor for me," he said. "Then honestly, as we've seen before, guys feel like they may be retired and maybe they come back. So whatever happens with his situation, he's a fabulous player, great player, a guy that I watched for a while. So his decision didn't factor into mine. It was more of a family decision, really more of my wife (Kirsten) and I talking about what that would it look like for us if I decided to do it, what it would look like for our family (the Watsons have seven children), and just kind of weighing the pros and cons of trying to play again at this point."
From the Patriots' standpoint, the pros of Watson's return would seem to far outweigh any cons. Remove him from the equation, and the team is looking at a depth chart that consists of Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse and Austin Seferian-Jenkins -- not exactly the "Murderer's Row' of NFL tight ends.
In Watson, they've added a player who has 530 receptions for 5,885 yards and 44 touchdowns in 195 regular-season games over his career, another 22 catches for 234 yards and three TDs in 12 postseason games, and just last year caught 35 passes for 400 yards and two TDs while appearing in all 16 regular-season games with the Saints. For what it's worth, Watson was involved in arguably the prettiest play of the day on Thursday, hauling in a touchdown pass from Danny Etling in heavy traffic.
Watson said once he set his mind to playing in 2019 he considered two options.
"We live in New Orleans now," the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder said. "Obviously, I just played there last year, we love that community there, the kids have a lot of friends in school, our church, just the city itself. We really love the people there. And then obviously here is the place where we started. This is where my life started, my wife and I. When we came here I was a rookie, wasn't married, now we have seven kids, been married 13 years, and so this place is always special to us as well."
Watson said that, to this juncture, life in Foxborough has "been good" the second time around.
"The weather's nice and cool, but things have been great," he said. "It's been good to see everybody's face again and it's kind of a little déj... vu moment, but (I'm) getting back into it, learning what to do again. The offense has changed so much since I've been gone, so it really is a new experience."