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Just a two-year NFL veteran, Danny Watkins will turn 29 in November. (USA Today Images)
The Danny Watkins era lasted 18 games. Which was about 18 games too long.
Watkins on Saturday joined Jerome McDougle, Leonard Renfro and Jon Harris in the Eagles' first-round bust scrap heap, when the Eagles released the over-aged and under-performing firefighter-turned-lineman just 28 months after they made him the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft (see story).
Watkins was a disaster from start to finish.
“I think when you talk about Danny, a change of scenery was necessary for him,” general manager Howie Roseman said Saturday.
“The pressure of being a first-round pick in Philadelphia and how he internalized that, the way for him to get his career back on track was to go to a new place, and both I and Chip [Kelly] told him that today.”
Watkins started 12 games at right guard as a rookie and six more last year before getting benched for two slightly less heralded players, Dennis Kelly and then Jake Scott.
In his 18 starts, he never showed any of the toughness that the Eagles loved in him at Baylor, and he seemed relieved more than disappointed when he finally got benched last October.
“When you watched Danny play, the toughness, the hockey-playing aspect of him, never translated to Philadelphia, and that’s one of the things that I told him today, was that when you watched him at Baylor and when you watched him at the Senior Bowl and when you met him, he had this innate toughness about him,” Roseman said.
“You felt like you were getting an enforcer, and he never let himself go here on that, and I don’t know why that was. I told him that was what I was the most confused by. Because that was something that everyone at Baylor told you about and you saw on his play on the field, and I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself, and he couldn’t just go out and play, and I think getting away from being Danny Watkins the first-round pick and just being Danny Watkins will really help him.”
Watkins is the first Eagles first-round pick the team has cut ties with after just two seasons since Jon Harris, an equally bewildering first-round pick back in 1997.
It was hoped that the switch from Howard Mudd to Jeff Stoutland might help revive Watkins’ career, but Watkins was never able to make any sort of push for a roster spot, much less a starting job, in his third NFL training camp.
Instead of Watkins, the Eagles kept reserve offensive linemen Allen Barbre, a 29-year-old journeyman, and Matt Tobin, a rookie undrafted free agent, who can play both guard and tackle, and Eagles and Bucs castoff Julian Vandervelde, who can play center and guard.
Roseman traced Watkins’ problems back to August 2011, when the lockout robbed all the rookies of the summer program, and then he reported to training camp five days late because of a contract impasse.
“I think he would tell you nothing ever got off to the right foot, whether it was coming to camp late, whether it was the lockout, whether it was him and Howard, their relationship,” Roseman said. “But the end of the day for him to have success in this league, we felt like we needed a fresh start.
“We felt like at this point we’re starting new and we’re starting fresh, and we felt like it was best for him to do the same thing.”
Watkins didn’t play football until he was 22 and was drafted at 26. He turns 29 in November, and despite just two years of NFL experience is older than all but 12 players on the Eagles’ 53-man roster.
As a two-year veteran, Watkins is subject to the NFL’s waiver-claim process. If he’s claimed, that team will inherit the two remaining years on his contract, at $1,064,500 this year and $1,357,175 next year.
If he clears waivers, the Eagles will be on the hook for his 2013 salary, which is guaranteed.
“We felt like at this point we’re starting new and we’re starting fresh,” Roseman said. “And we felt like it was best for him to do the same thing.”