Condon runs out of time in negotiations
Watson opts to let agent go amid stalled talks on deal
By Michael Smith, Globe Staff | August 14, 2004

FOXBOROUGH -- Asked if he was being interrupted when reached at his home in Rock Hill, S.C., late Thursday night, Benjamin Watson answered no. The Patriots' rookie tight end said he was just thinking. Apparently, his thoughts brought him to the conclusion that it was time for his holdout to end.

The standoff between the Super Bowl champions and agent Tom Condon over the length of Watson's first contract ended yesterday with the first-round draft choice ending his professional relationship with Condon.

The Patriots would not move from their insistence on a six-year deal, and Condon refused to negotiate anything longer than a five-year pact. Since neither side would give, Watson did, giving the responsibility for his representation to Atlanta-based Pat Dye.

With Dye, who negotiated a five-year deal for fifth-round pick P.K. Sam, now on the case, Watson is expected to sign for six years and report to training camp by the end of next week.

Watson, a finance major at Georgia, has gotten a hard lesson in the business of pro football. Time is money, and his holdout has cost him both. Because he's missed the first 16 days of camp, the bonus money included in the Patriots' proposal has been reduced from roughly $3.8 million to around $3.3 million.

"If you're a football player, this time of year, that's what you're supposed to be doing," said Watson, who had plans to watch last night's exhibition opener against the Eagles. "That's what you want, to be playing in your first game. Mine has just been delayed. I'll still have a first game, just not [last night]."

Told there were indications that a deal would be consummated sometime next week, Watson said, "Things are definitely looking better right now. It looks like it's going to be sooner rather than later. I'd say that's definitely a possibility."

What was not, Watson said, was his sitting out the entire season and reentering the draft next year. "I don't think that would have helped me," he said.

Condon, who said the sides were never close to an agreement, did not believe it to be in Watson's best interest to sign for longer than five years. Though first-round picks Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork each signed with the Patriots for six, the Condon camp kept pointing to fellow tight end Daniel Graham's five-year deal and claiming a double standard, though Graham was not asked to sign for six years. In Watson's case, the 23-year-old would enter unrestricted free agency at 30.

Also, Condon may have been reluctant to agree to New England's terms for fear that rival agents would use it against him in client recruiting.

"They weren't coming off six, and I wasn't coming off five," Condon said yesterday. "I just wasn't willing to do a six-year contract. Ben is a great guy and I expect him to be a tremendous football player. It's just unfortunate for him that he has to do a six-year deal.

"He understands that a six-year deal is not a positive thing for him. He also understands that no one else within 10 picks of him has a six-year deal. In the last 12 years, there's been only one six-year deal in the last quarter of the first round."

Condon and Watson were complimentary of each other, and Condon said Watson would not be charged for his services. On Thursday night, while he wouldn't confirm that he was preparing to part with Condon, Watson said, "If I did, it would not be because I'm unhappy with Tom or IMG. It would not be because I didn't think they could do the job."

The Patriots, who don't include voidable years in their contracts, believed they were offering Watson good value in exchange for the extra year. They offered more than 20 percent of a five-year contract for the 32d pick in their six-year proposal, which included incentives that could have increased Watson's $1.3 million base salary for the final year to the $4.5 million neighborhood.

Watson clearly was resigned Thursday night to playing on the Patriots' terms. "Everybody in my section of the round got five years, but if the Patriots want to do things differently, that's their prerogative," he said. "If they want me to sign for four, five, or six years, it's nothing I can control. Even if your agent wants you to get what's right compared to what everybody else in my position is getting, it boils down to what the team you're with wants to give you."

Watson was concerned that he had given his teammates the wrong impression about him. "My first goal is to get there. My second goal is to show the guys that this whole holdout thing wasn't about greed," he said. "I don't want them to think that I'm some hot-shot rookie, because that's not the case. I feel like I need to let them know I'm not going to be a distraction to the team."

Armed and ready

Quarterback Jim Miller, who underwent surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder during the offseason and wasn't supposed to begin throwing until the end of this month, started throwing several days ago, putting him well ahead of schedule. The 33-year-old Miller is said to be throwing 25-30 yards with good velocity. He could return soon enough to compete for the backup job to Tom Brady, and is on course to be available for the start of the season. He did not play last night . . . Right tackle Tom Ashworth has not been practicing because of a bulging disk in his back, a condition he's had since college. It began to bother him toward the end of the offseason program, and the Patriots are said to be taking it easy with him as a precaution. Ashworth doesn't need surgery . . . David Givens (leg) is expected to return to practice this week . . . The Eagles endured a rough night in the injury department. Word from Gillette was that the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl may have lost three players for the season (names were unavailable) . . . Wilfork on his first game: "I think it was a good first day. A lot to improve on and a long way to go. I recognized blocking schemes and what they're trying to do to me. I wasn't perfect, but I've got something to build on. To be honest with you, I'm satisfied and very surprised with my play. But there's still a long way to go." . . . The Patriots extended their exhibition-season winning streak to eight games, tying the club record set from Aug. 8, 1977 to Aug. 4, 1979 . . . Last night's opposing coaches are the winningest in the league since 2001. Bill Belichick's Patriots have gone 40-14 (.741 winning percentage), while Andy Reid's Eagles have posted a 39-16 (.709) mark the past three seasons. . . . Belichick improved to 4-0 against the Eagles (preseason and regular season).