The New England Patriots are re-signing veteran tight end Ben Watson after releasing him a week ago, according to an ESPN report.

The news meant the Patriots will add a veteran piece to their offense, which has been hit by a rash of injuries.

Watson retired in the offseason but came back to rejoin the Patriots – the team he played for from 2004-09. He missed the first four games of the season, serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, but then was released by the team once he was eligible to return.

“(We) like Ben, just, we don’t have a roster spot for him right now,” Coach Bill Belichick said upon Watson’s release. “So maybe that will change, but for the moment, that’s where it is.”

DURING HIS debut as a football analyst for FOX sports Thursday night, Rob Gronkowski left the door open for a return to the game. Might Tom Brady, who seems to be pining for help on offense, try to give his former tight end a nudge through the door?

Brady, appearing Monday on WEEI radio, indicated he wasn’t the type to push. He’s just happy Gronk seems to be enjoying retired life.

“I love that guy. I’m so happy he’s enjoying his time. I’m happy he’s enjoying his life. He seems to really be doing a lot of great things,” said Brady. “He knows how I feel about him. He knows I want what’s best for him. He’s the only person that can make those decisions. I don’t lobby for those things.”

The Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, also indicated Thursday night there was hope Gronk might come out of his retirement, saying on the NFL Network the former tight end never filed his retirement paperwork.

“We all love Gronk and I think the bottom line is, he hasn’t put his retirement papers in,” said Kraft. “We can pray and hope. … I think that’s a good academic argument that there is hope with Gronk.”

On March 26, the Patriots placed Gronk on the NFL’s “reserve/retired” list after he announced his retirement. Gronkowski also teased the possibility of a return.

“I’d have to be feeling it big time to come back. It’s always going to be open in my mind,” Gronkowski said following Kraft’s comments as he made his FOX debut in New York. “I love the game of football, I love playing the game, I love being around the game. I even love watching the game … I’ll always keep the door open.”

Brady, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to be holding out hope.

“He’s meant a lot to our team already over the course of a long period of time. People should be very appreciative for what he’s brought to the team and what he’s brought to the region,” said Brady. “He’s a very special guy. He’s at a different phase of his life.”

INJURED PATRIOTS ROOKIE wide receiver N’Keal Harry will return to practice this week “if he’s ready,” Belichick said Monday.

Harry, who was taken out of Arizona State with the 32nd overall pick, was placed on injured reserve Sept. 2 with an ankle injury. After six weeks of sitting out, Harry is eligible to return to practice and could make his debut Nov. 3 against the Baltimore Ravens if deemed healthy enough.

“We hope he’ll be ready to go,” Belichick said.

Harry is one of the three key Patriots who are eligible to return off the IR later in the year, with offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and fullback James Develin. New England only can return two of those players, so if Harry comes back, Wynn or Develin will miss the remainder of the year.

How Harry fares in practice over the next three weeks will determine if he’ll play this season.

“He’s been able to keep up with everything (mentally),” Belichick said. “Just physically, he needs to be able to show he can go out there and participate competitively at the practice level we’re at. Hopefully that’s where it will be but we’ll make our final evaluations on that before we put him out there.”

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will watch Harry closely over the next three weeks if the rookie returns to practice. With Phillip Dorsett and Josh Gordon banged up, the Pats could find significant playing time for the talented rookie wideout.

“We have to get him back on the practice field, and we have to make smart decisions about when he’s ready to do what,” McDaniels said. “I think the practice field and the results we get on the practice field will tell us when the right time is to use him in different roles.

“It’s really no different for him now than it would be at the very beginning of the season, either. You get him in there and he’s going to make some mistakes. He’s going to learn from them. Hopefully he improves because of it. I think we’re going to use our practice repetitions and the work we put in on the practice field each week moving forward as the barometer to tell us when the right time is to do more or to maybe pull back and do less.”

THE PATRIOTS placed fullback Jakob Johnson on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

Johnson was injured Thursday night during the 35-14 win over the Giants. He appeared in four games with three starts, catching one pass for 5 yards after being elevated from the practice squad when Develin went on the IR with a neck injury.

Johnson, who is originally from Germany and played his college ball at Tennessee, signed with New England as a free agent in April as part of the NFL’s International Pathway Program.


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