Saints TE Ben Watson still waiting

On paper, signing veteran free agent Ben Watson seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the tight end-friendly New Orleans Saints offense.

Now, all Watson has to do is get medical clearance to play.

Watson, 32, missed Tuesday’s Organized Team Activity (OTA) with an undisclosed health issue/injury just as he has all offseason since signing a three-year, $2.95 million contract in March after coming over from the Cleveland Browns.

Other players who did not participate were strong safety Roman Harper, rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, cornerback Patrick Robinson and cornerback Ryan Steed.

In keeping with the team’s offseason theme, Saints coach Sean Payton did not elaborate on the absentees.

“Certainly, you’d feel better about going into the summer by watching (Watson) practice, but I’ve watched him play for enough years to know that he knows what to do,’’ Saints tight ends coach Terry Malone said. “If this was a problem that would occur in the fall, it’s much better that we’ve gotten it taken care of now.

“Believe me, he’ll be right in step with what we do come day one of fall camp.’’

A healthy Watson would give the Saints a formidable one, two punch at the tight end position, now that Jimmy Graham has established himself as one of the game’s best.

Watson played in all 16 games for the Browns last season, catching 49 passes for 501 yards and three touchdowns. In three seasons with Cleveland, Watson caught 154 passes for 1,674 yards and eight touchdowns.

His breakout season came in 2010, his first in Cleveland, when he led the team in receptions (68), receiving yards (763) and scoring catches (3).

Besides Watson, a No. 1 pick of the New England Patriots in 2004, other tight ends on the roster include Michael Higgins and undrafted rookie free agents Keavon Milton and Josh Hill.

“I’m excited about Mike Higgins being a big part of what we’re doing, and I think we hit twice with those two young guys,’’ Malone said. “We got to keep enough healthy legs at tight end to be able to run what we do. I think we’re in pretty good shape right now.’’

Scary moment

Silence fell over the practice field when veteran outside linebacker Victor Butler went down in a heap after colliding with running back Mark Ingram. Butler, a free agent signee from the Dallas Cowboys, stayed on the ground for a few minutes before being assisted off the field.

“I think he is going to be fine, actually, so we are fortunate,’’ Payton said.

Butler emerged from the locker room with an ice wrap on his left knee.

Vaccaro benefits

Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, said he has benefited greatly from the past month in the offseason program.

“When I first got here, I was a little uneasy,’’ he said. “I didn’t know the defense. I didn’t know anybody. But now, I’ve gotten to know the guys, we’re friends now, and the way I’ve been practicing I think I earned the respect of the locker room a little bit. So, it’s been good.’’

Vaccaro said he will remain in New Orleans one more week with the other rookies before returning to Austin, Texas, to resume training for the start of training camp.


Former Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft, signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears. ... Payton said the team’s off-season program will conclude with OTAs Wednesday and Thursday. Training camp is expected to start July 26. Payton said he was pleased with his team’s offseason program, calling it “one of the better ones’’ in terms of players lifting and training. “Our attendance has been outstanding, and we were able to install a new defense,’’ he said. ... Cornerback Jabari Greer will fill in as a guest columnist for senior writer Peter King while he is on vacation. Greer’s Monday Morning Quarterback column will appear on July 1. “I’m excited,’’ Greer said. “I’m trying to find inspiration and usually it happens spur of the moment. I don’t want to be like Peter. I want to make sure I have my vision and my tone so when people read it, they know it’s me. I can’t give away my secret formula. But let the people know it will be written in my style. I do like to talk about sports but I like to inject a life into it, a breath of fresh air.’’

Worth repeating

“We were at the bottom last year, so we have nothing to do but go up.’’

— Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins when asked if he could see an improvement in the defense.