It didn’t take long for Watkins to begin visiting local firehouses. He started a charity called ‘All Hands Working within the blink of an eye. Watkins was using his new-found platform as an NFL player, to give back to the community and craft that shaped the 26-year old man.
But his career as an Eagle never really stood a chance. Because of the lockout that spring, the Eagles coaching staff couldn’t work with Watkins until late July, when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached. Because ongoing negotiations with his contract too, Watkins fell behind…fast. It’s hard transitioning inside as it is, this was before the new mold of versatile lineman took the forefront…especially for a player with such limited football experience.
It definitely didn’t help that Howard Mudd, who spent one year with the Eagles after a 45-year NFL resume, was as old-school as they come. Gritty, tough, in-your-face, Mudd defined ‘tough love’…which for most players was fine. But until this point, football had been almost a hobby for Watkins, but now he was expected to perform. Expected to perform like a first-round pick. Expected to treat every practice like it would be his last…and that just calmed the fire he had for the game.
There were numerous stories fo Watkins struggling to grasp concepts and basic fundamentals under Mudd’s guidance, with some going as far to liken it to a strict father almost screaming coaching at his kid who was struggling in a golf swing.
“The toughness we saw at Baylor (University) never translated to Philadelphia,” – Howie Roseman
Watkins was inserted into the lineup at right guard, where he started 12 games…and was underwhelming at best.
What’s almost heartbreaking is that something happened during Watkins’ tenure with the Eagles. Amidst the constant pressure building internally and externally, his teammates took a stand. According to this fantastic article on Sports Illustrated, both Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis approached Howard Mudd, asking him to take it easy on Danny, to take a different approach and not yell commands into his ear over and over…because Watkins was breaking down. His love for the game, fading.
He started to become reclusive. He wouldn’t dive into the tape and would often be pulled up on it, always giving the same answer while all of his other teammates were knee deep in All-22 goodness. He wasn’t social, he wasn’t part of that group…but that didn’t mean they didn’t support him.
Watkins appeared close with his offensive line teammates. As his career in Philadelphia grew dark, his love for firefighting was just re-enforced. In fact, Watkins actually bought himself a fire truck….like, a real fire truck and took Jason Kelce out for a spin.
Then, there was this absolute iconic moment, where the o-line played out a scene where Fireman Danny would save the day. They loved him. They just saw a 26-year old man, trapped in an environment he didn’t really ever envision himself in, and longed for something so pure, so immaterial, so genuine, that you couldn’t help but support him.
One dreadful 2011 season later and a flurry of coaching changes that saw both Andy Reid and Howard Mudd depart wiped a clean slate for Watkins. In stepped Chip Kelly and Jeff Stoutland and a system that almost demanded versatility…something Watkins struggled to find.
But as all of this continued to spiral, Watkins’ love for fire-fighting reached new heights. And in the most bizarre news story to date, he was pictured fighting fires with the Philadelphia Fire Department just days after a game in 2012. The new look staff were already concerned with Watkins, his efforts, his play as a first-round pick…but then they see their player fighting fires mid-season…which obviously breaks just about every unwritten rule of an NFL contract possible, for very obvious reasons.
To this day, Watkins states this was purely a charity appearance. But the reality is, he may well have been moonlighting as a firefighter this whole time. Keeping a deep secret, like Spiderman. That’s why he fell behind with tape, why he struggled to grasp concepts…it all made sense.
And after another disappointing season, it was finished. Danny Watkins was cut in 2013 and was granted an opportunity in Miami for one season, before quitting football, moving back to Texas and that firehouse once more.
So what happened next?