The best year of Benjamin Watson’s career hasn’t ended yet.
The New Orleans Saints tight end was named one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award on Sunday, joining San Francisco 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The award is given annually to the NFL player who displays excellence on and off the field.
The award will be announced during the NFL honors show the night before the Super Bowl, earning $50,000 for the winner’s charity of choice.
“So humbled to be named a finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year,” Watson tweeted. “Congrats to all the nominees. There are so many great men in our league.”
Watson, a devout Christian, leads the Watson One More Foundation, spreading “the hope and love of Christ” by buying Christmas shopping sprees for 25 families from a local domestic violence shelter, hosting dinners at the New Orleans Mission and organizing his “Sit Down with a Saint” event.
The 35-year-old tight end is also a member of the NFLPA Executive Committee, a spokesman for the NFL’s “All-Pro Dad” campaign and a participant in the NFL’s “No More” initiative.
Watson also has became a respected voice on the subject of race, earning him a 2014 nod as one of CNN’s Most Extraordinary People of the Year and earning him the ability to write a book, “Under Our Skin,” dealing with his thoughts and hopes for racial reconciliation.
On the field, Watson turned in the best year of his career at 35, setting career bests with 74 catches, 825 yards and six touchdowns as he took over the lead tight end role from Jimmy Graham.
“Benjamin is not only one of our team’s most consistent receivers, but he is also an outstanding leader both in our locker room as a team captain and in our community,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. “Benjamin has taken his role as a team captain very seriously and has been a great mentor, resource and role model to younger players in our locker room. In addition, his work through his foundation, commitment to helping those in need and as an advocate against domestic violence make us proud to recognize him with the team honor.”
Manning, born and raised in New Orleans, has become a tireless worker for children in his time as the Giants quarterback.
The 35-year-old works with the New York March for Babies, Tackle Kids’ Cancer, Guiding Eyes’ for the Blind, the No More campaign and Operation Smile in New York.
Manning has established children’s clinics in Mississippi, the Manning Family Fund for the Ole Miss Medical Center and flew supplies down to New Orleans through the American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.
“As my kids get older, I want them to understand the importance of being a part of community, and helping out people that are less fortunate, and how many blessings they have,” Manning said in a news release. “I want them to have that in their life and an understanding of how important it is to be help out other people and different causes.”