When the New York Jets play their 2012 NFL season finale this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, starting tight end Dustin Keller could very well be playing his final game in a Jets uniform. That is, if Keller suits up at all.
The 28-year-old Keller has been battling hamstring and ankle injuries all season long, appearing in a career-low eight games this season, in what is the fifth and final year of his rookie contract.
Keller has been vocal in the past about desiring a contract extension from the Jets, who traded a second- and a fourth-round draft pick to move back into the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft to select Keller 30th overall.
When the unrestricted free agent to be was asked this week about the possibility of being eligible for the franchise tag, (expected to be about $5.9 million) Keller was steadfast in believing that he’s worth more than just one year.
“I 100-percent do not want to be franchised,” Keller said. “I signed a five-year deal, that’s what I agreed to. To make somebody play a one-year deal … is crazy to me. … I definitely don’t want to be franchised.”
Unfortunately for Keller, his production has never really warranted the price the Jets paid to get him, and while he seems to think that five-year contracts are the norm in this league, players typically earn those deals.
Keller will be lucky to find a five-year deal anywhere in free agency, and I hope the Jets call his bluff and let him walk.
He’s not a dynamic player by any means, and truthfully, he’s been a bottom tier tight end for years now.
Aside from his rookie season of 2008, with Brett Favre throwing to him, Keller has never graded in Pro Football Focus‘s top 20 tight ends in overall production, among tight ends who have played at least 265 snaps per year.
While it would be correct to say that going from a seasoned vet like Favre to a developing rookie in Mark Sanchez has an effect on Keller’s production, most of his subpar performance comes from his poor blocking.
He’s graded out somewhere between slightly below average to downright awful as a run blocker in four of his five NFL seasons, and it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever be good enough to be even an average run blocker.
Overall, Pro Football Focus graded Keller 57th out of 61 qualified tight ends in 2009, 40th out of 63 in 2010, and 47th out of 64 in 2011. That’s a cumulative grade that takes blocking and receiving into account.
Keller earned a top ten receiving grade among tight ends as a rookie, but was 45th in 2009, 48th in 2010, and 30th in 2011. He was also among the bottom tier of tight ends in terms of dropping catchable balls in 2009 and 2010.
Essentially, even though he’s led the Jets in receptions two different seasons, his reputation as “the Jets’ leading receiver” is a little hollow in the broader context of other tight ends around the league.
At his best, Dustin Keller is simply not a tight end that fits the “ground-and-pound” attack that Rex Ryan prefers.
He hasn’t done anything to warrant the contract extension he so richly desires, in my opinion. For both parties, it’s probably best to just move on. If Keller can find a long-term deal elsewhere, he should pursue it.
The Jets have a tight in Jeff Cumberland who has shown flashes of being able to replicate Keller’s production at a fraction of the cost, and they have an intriguing prospect in Hayden Smith, a converted professional rugby player.
They can always address the position in the draft as well, only this time, if they’re going to trade multiple draft picks to get a tight end, they better make sure he’s a bonafide difference maker, as a blocker and as a receiver.
However the Jets decide to address their tight end depth in 2013, I’d prefer to see them move on from Dustin Keller. The Jets need tight ends who can block well, or at least adequately. It’s time for Keller and the Jets to part ways.
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