Lacking a receiving threat at tight end after last year's trade of Kellen Winslow, the Browns signed six-year veteran Benjamin Watson from the New England Patriots Friday morning.
One of three free agents who visited Thursday, Watson signed a three-year, $12.5 million contract with $6.35 million guaranteed, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
The Browns confirmed the signing, but said only it was a multi-year contract.
Schefter said Browns president Mike Holmgren outbid his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, for the services of Watson.
''We viewed Ben as one of the top all-around tight ends in the free agent market,” Browns general manager Tom Heckert said in a statement. ''Because of his athleticism and intelligence, he has proven valuable as both a receiver and blocker during his career, and has performed well in both facets. He comes from a winning program in New England and possesses the traits that we like in a player. We feel as though he can help us in many different areas and we are excited about his addition to our team.''
Watson, a first-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2004 out of Georgia, has ties to both Browns coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Mangini was on the Patriots staff with Watson in 2004-05, Daboll through 2006.
Watson, 29, 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, fills a void left when Mangini traded Winslow to Tampa Bay on the first day of free agency in 2009. Four different players started at tight end (including offensive lineman Hank Fraley) last season and the Browns' top producer (with 12 catches for 158 yards) was Evan Moore, promoted from the practice squad on Dec. 5.
In 2009, Watson caught 29 passes for 404 yards and five touchdowns, the second-most in his career. In 71 career games with 47 starts, Watson has totalled 167 receptions for 2,102 yards and 20 touchdowns. His only career 100-yard receiving game came in 2007 against the Browns in Gillette Stadium, pulling in six passes for 107 yards and two scores.
Watson also seems to be the type of high-character player coveted by Mangini and Holmgren. Watson participated in an NFL-USO tour of military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and has been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
An avid photographer, Watson has also traveled to Israel with Patriots owner Robert Kraft in 2008 and to China as a Patriots ambassador.
The Browns did not come to terms with two other recently released players who visited the Browns Thursday. Quarterback Jake Delhomme of the Carolina Panthers left to visit New Orleans today and Saturday, according to the NFL Network's Jason La Canfora, and Oakland Raiders running back Justin Fargas was set to visit Philadelphia today, Schefter reported.