The news out of camp is that free agent signee, Zeron Flemister, formerly a Washington Redskins cast off, has suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. Flemister will be placed on injured reserve effectively ending his season, possibly his tenure with the team, after less than a month.
With Flemister out, the team is left with four players vying for the job of starter. Christian Fauria the 10 year vet who recently returned from injury, Daniel Graham the longest tenured TE in Foxboro, 2004 UDFA Andy Mignery, and unsigned first round draft pick Ben Watson.
Fauria is penciled in as the starter on the official depth chart, with Graham as his primary backup and Mignery the 3rd stringer for now. Watson by default, is last on the depth chart because he remains one of only two unsigned 1st round draft picks around the league.
Negotiations between Watson's agent Tom Condon and the team seem to be going through the typical gyrations of two sides unwilling to compromise. The Patriots are asking Watson to sign a 6 year deal, and Condon refuses to give in to that demand. While it is common practice for 6 years deals to be signed by players who were drafted in the top of the 1st round, 5 years deals are more common for those chosen at the bottom of the round.
The issue is guaranteed money. Top prospects get larger signing and roster bonuses, which is why they are typically more willing to accept the extra year on their contract. On the other hand, lower tier 1st rounders get less guaranteed money up front, which encourages them to try to get to their second contract to make the big money.
Watson is 24, and if he signs off on the 6 years the Patriots want for the price they're willing to pay, he'll be 30 by the time he's ready for his second contract.If he outperforms his contract, the Patriots would have great value in having him locked up for that extra year. While it may be possible that the team rips up his contract and renegotiates, it is unlikely, as even premier players like Ty Law are finding out.
What about Graham? Wasn't he too a high draft pick? Daniel Graham was chosen by the Patriots in the 1st round of the 2002 draft. 21st overall. If Watson is looking for history to prove his point, all he has to do is look at Graham. Graham, a top prospect out of Colorado, has underachieved at the position. Once considered a possible throwback to the days of Ben Coates, Graham hasn't yet fulfilled the promise placed in him as the 21st overall selection.
Head coach Bill Belichick has publicly praised Graham's off-season dedication, and continues to hold out hope that Graham will be the player the team thought they were getting when they drafted him. The lack of confidence in Graham was one of the reason the Patriots drafted Watson.
Andy Mignery. Who? you ask... The kid from Michigan, perennial football powerhouse of the Big Ten. Why haven't we heard much of him? Well probably because he's low man on the totem pole, and was a long shot to make the team. Few know Mignery was a QB at Michigan where he converted to TE after a short stint as the QB competing with the likes of John Navarre.
Mignery was signed as one of many off-season experiments to see if he could work his way onto the roster, in the case that Graham gets cut / traded, one of the other TEs go down with an injury, and he is able to outperform the remaining candidates on the roster. He has looked good in camp thusfar, although he hasn't outperformed the other TE signee Flemister or veterans Graham and Fauria.
If Watson continues his holdout, Mignery can only benefit from the increased snaps he's getting. Mignery will have to be a standout on special teams to have a real shot at making the roster, but don't be surprised, he looks quick, and appears to have decent hands. The concern will be his ability to block.
While the Watson watch continues, Patriots fans will have to keep an eye on the inconsistent Graham, the usually dependable Fauria and the longshot Mignery.