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ESPN eyes Ben Watson for NFL TV role, SN sources say | NFL

ESPN is eying former NFL star Ben Watson for a TV role, sources tell Sporting News.

Watson, who just retired from the Saints after a 15-year career, is viewed as one of the most TV-ready talents on the free-agent market.

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The former Saints-Ravens-Browns-Patriots player made a strong impression during CBS Sports’ “Super Bowl Today” pregame show, discussing social justice initiatives with James Brown, Amy Trask and the NFLPA’s Troy Vincent.

ESPN declined comment on Watson.

The 38-year-old Watson is viewed as one of the NFL’s most thoughtful players, receiving multiple nominations for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recognizing “excellence on and off the field.” But Watson is also known for telling it like it is.

When Watson’s Saints were robbed of a trip to Super Bowl 53 after the infamous non-call against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, he politely but firmly ripped NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s “unbecoming” public silence on the matter. 

“Lead by example,” Watson urged Goodell on Twitter.

After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Watson’s heartfelt Facebook essay went viral. The father of five kids then authored a book on race relations called “Under Our Skin.” 

ESPN recently parted ways with Charles Woodson after three seasons on Sam Ponder’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” I could see Watson sliding into the studio chair vacated by Woodson on “Countdown,” which is still trying to find a solid formula after the departure of legendary anchor Chris Berman.

Like Tony Romo, Watson knows the current pass-happy NFL offense inside and out.

He played with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in New England from 2004 to 2009. So he can dissect the Pats system. We know already that the Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN likes to hire ex-Pats such as Tedy Bruschi.

But if Watson wants a big TV job, he might have to compete with another star NFL tight end: Greg Olsen of the Panthers. Olsen has appeared on both ESPN and Fox Sports.

While he plans to play in 2019, Olsen will likely be snapped up by a TV network once he hangs up his cleats.

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Meanwhile, former NFL head coach Rex Ryan could be the wild card as ESPN revamps its pregame/postgame studio coverage for Sundays and “Monday Night Football.”

After a rocky first season on the air (in which Ryan appeared to be biding his time until the next coaching job), the ex-Jets coach embraced TV in his second season. By the end of the 2018 season, I thought he was the sharpest, most entertaining analyst on “Sunday NFL Countdown.”

Ryan was even better, I thought, during his Monday morning hits with Mike Greenberg on the daily “Get Up!” morning show.

If Ryan doesn’t return to the NFL as rumored, he could be rounding into the top-tier studio analyst ESPN thought it had hired in 2017.

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