In March, 39-year-old tight end Benjamin Watson announced his retirement after 15 NFL seasons, four teams (including two stints with New Orleans and New England) and one Super Bowl championship. He and his wife, Kirsten, are the parents of seven children, and Watson is an executive vice president of the NFL Players Association and a prominent voice on topics within and beyond sports.

He recently spoke by phone with The Washington Post about his past and his future, ambition and pain. This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: So many athletes have a hard time walking away, and after returning for the 2019 season after announcing your retirement, that includes you. How do you know when it’s really time?

A: Before retiring — officially for real this time — I spoke with guys who retired before. Some guys say: “You know what? I knew I was done.” Then I talked to some guys who are still, 10 years later, talking about how they still wished that they could play.

For me, it was where my family is right now: the fact that we have seven children and we just had twins a year ago. I could probably play again, but it would be a one-year deal here, a one-year deal there. And I just wanted to get to the point where you can figure out where you’re going to live and kind of settle down. You can keep going, but your body won’t last. You also start to think, “Okay, what is going to be my next life’s challenge?”

Q: Speaking of retirement, who steps away first: Tom Brady or Drew Brees?

A: This year right here is going to be a determining factor. Whoever comes out of the NFC South as the representative of the playoffs, I think, is going to retire.

Q: Knowing those two guys, do you think there’s competition even in who can last longer?

A: No doubt. There’s a certain pride when you play this game for a long time. You talk about two guys who are obviously first-ballot Hall of Famers, who are Super Bowl champions, who are the best elite quarterbacks. There’s definitely some competition.

Q: What sets athletes like that apart from other quarterbacks, even highly successful ones?

A: They perfected what they need for themselves. They each have their own method that they’ve developed that helps them be confident and perform at their best. It doesn’t look the same for everybody. Everybody has a different body type. Everybody gets sore in different ways. Everybody has a different mental capacity to access information at different times and learn it in different ways.

There are other people and other factors that are part of our story along the way. Brees goes to San Diego and has a major shoulder injury and ends up going to New Orleans, and he’s coupled with a guy named Sean Payton. They have this perfect marriage that wins them a Super Bowl, saves a city and turns into a prolific offense for a decade, right? That doesn’t happen if he stays in San Diego.

You look at Tom Brady, sixth-round pick to New England, and they got a quarterback already there, Drew Bledsoe. Then Drew gets hurt. I say all that to say: What makes people great, a lot of it is them, but a lot of it is certain circumstances that they really have no control over.

Q: What do you think the 2020 NFL season will look like?

A: I don’t know what it will look like. I’m not throwing out entirely that we may not have a season that starts on time. If there’s no [organized team activities] and there’s no minicamps, that’s fine. We can still start the season on time.

Q: Do you worry about the health of players, especially if the offseason program or even training camps are canceled?

A: It’s not just players who have to be concerned. It’s also coaches, management from the NFL side as well as the NFLPA side. That’s already been in our discussions. We’ve talked repeatedly, extensively about the fact that whenever we get back to normalcy, there needs to be a ramp-up period. We’re not going to be in a scenario where we get the green light and it’s a week before training camp and we’re going to have everybody report in a week and proceed as if we’ve had a full offseason as normal.

Q: You have spoken about the pain of miscarriage, which some athletes and non-athletes might be hesitant to discuss. What did that chapter in your family’s life teach you?

A: It brought us closer as a family and also as husband and wife. As a man, I was dealing with my own pain, and she was dealing with her unique pain being that she was carrying the babies. I think the biggest thing that I learned and that we learned was that there are thousands of people who deal with this on a daily basis. The sad thing is that we don’t culturally understand how to grieve a lost child in the womb from a miscarriage.

So many women, especially, but also men — husbands, fathers of the children — are suffering in silence in their silos. Whenever my wife speaks about it, whenever I speak about it, hundreds of people comment: “I went through this. I lost two kids. I lost three babies to miscarriage. I was ruined. I’m in so much pain.” We’ve learned that it’s important for us as a community, as a people, to talk about these things so that we can heal together and we can support each other and love each other through this terrible loss and acknowledge it.

Q: You have a degree in finance, and you have dabbled in activism on topics such as criminal justice reform and ending global slavery. What gets you excited not just about your next 40 years but the next two?

A: Things that get me excited have to do with faith, and along those lines there’s a ministry called Pro Athletes Outreach that we’ve been involved with pretty much my entire time in the league. I’m still going to be involved with the NFLPA for the next couple years as well.

Right now I’m working on a documentary on abortion, which is another controversial topic. It’s called “Divided Hearts of America,” and we’re looking to release it in the fall of this year. I kind of went on a journey of interviewing about 40 different voices — from politicians to people in academia to people who have survived abortions to doctors, people who are on both sides of the spectrum and some people that are kind of in the middle — to get an understanding and truth about abortion and what’s the history behind it and why is it necessary or not necessary and just where we are as a country in this issue. There’s really no other issue that divides us as much as this one — and rightly so.

Q: Speaking of the NFLPA, the union is at a crossroads, with a new collective bargaining agreement and a new president. In the next decade, how can players not only continue to recognize their own power but actually seize it?

A: We are in a much better place now then when we went through our last negotiations 10 years ago and even before that. Seeing the younger players that come into the league now, they are a lot more educated than I was.

That being said, the financial power still rests in the owners’ hands. They can outlast us on so many different levels. In order for us to seize the power, I think it’s going to take drastic action. I think you saw some of that last year. You saw some guys who wanted to totally upend the system in a way that we probably haven’t seen before. It takes guys that say: “You know what? We’re not going to come play until this, this and this happens.”

Q: We saw a lighter side of Bill Belichick and, of course, his dog during the draft. Do you have a favorite Belichick-shows-joy story?

A: Honestly, I wouldn’t have had one until I went back this year, because of my first six years there, I can’t think of one. But they win like three more championships, and I guess he’s in a better mood? During the preseason we divide up into teams and did these competitions — they were doing these trivia questions, which isn’t fair because Bill knows everything. And then toward the end we had to do this big skit, and Bill was onstage singing a song. I had been gone for 10 years. I hadn’t seen this side of him. I was blown away, in a good way.

Q: Who wins the NFC South? Brady’s Buccaneers or Brees’s Saints?

A: I can never bet against Tom, you know? But I don’t know that team, and I don’t know that organization. I do know the Saints organization, and I do know that they’ve been successful over the last five years or so. But I can never bet against Tom Brady.