Keep Him or let Him Go: Dustin Keller

As of right now we don’t know anything about John Idzik as a General Manager, but with all the different immediate decisions Idzik will have to face, it won’t take long for us to form some type of understanding of what he’s about.

Would he really trade Revis? How does he address the quarterback situation in 2013? Draft offense or defense? Best Player Available or need? Who does he target in free agency and who does he retain from this roster?

With the Jets already set to release Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith (and possibly Sione Po’uha or even Santonio Holmes) to clear cap space the next step for Idzik is to figure out which players from his own crop of free agents he would like to keep here and which ones he will let sign elsewhere. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll discuss whether or not the Jets should either keep player X or let him go. With 12 unrestricted, four restricted and four exclusive rights free agents Idzik has a lot of work to do in this area. Some of the decisions are much easier than others, Bryan Thomas won’t be back, Austin Howard almost surely will, but the tough decisions will revolve around the likes of LaRon Landry, Dustin Keller, Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson, Yeremiah Bell, Braylon Edwards and Jeff Cumberland.

Today we will focus on Keller.

Dustin Keller is just one of two Jets free agents, after five years of flashing potential but never quite living up to it should the Jets re-sign Keller or let him walk? (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

In 2008 the Jets drafted Keller with the 30th overall pick (they also drafted Vernon Gholston with the sixth overall pick that year and just for fun we’ll list some of the players drafted after Keller; 35th, Brandon Flowers, 36th Jordy Nelson, 44th Matt Forte, 55 Ray Rice, 73 Jamaal Charles) and he immediately flashed all types of potential as a rookie. But the problem is, flash is all he’s been able to establish through five seasons in the league. At times Keller looks to be exactly what any team would want in a tight-end, but far too often Keller simply disappears or if he shows up it’s mostly as he’s dropping a key pass or committing a drive-killing penalty.

When assessing whether or not to re-sign Keller it’s important to disregard last season (assuming he’s healthy now), he got hurt in the first game of the season and when he returned to the lineup he was clearly never at 100 percent and even if he was it’d be a stretch to blame a tight end for a lack of production in last year’s dysfunctional offense. Keller’s best year came in 2011 where he tallied 65 catches for 815 yards and five touchdowns, decent numbers but far from irreplaceable.

Keller has been the only constant target for Sanchez over the years, but considering the team will be starting to prepare themselves to move on from Sanchez (whether that happens during training camp, mid-season or next season) it doesn’t make sense to make a decision on Keller with Sanchez in mind. But as much as it may seem a perfect time for the Jets to part with Keller it may also be the perfect time for them to re-sign him at a good value. NFL players are assets to their teams much like stocks, maybe you don’t love a particular stock but at the right price and right time there could simply be too much potential value in that stock to let it go.

Between Keller’s injury and his less than consistent and underachieving production he might not command enough money on the market for the Jets to simply let him go. If a team is willing to sign him to a big contract than the Jets should absolutely let him walk but with Marty Mornhinweg calling the shots as the Jets offensive coordinator Keller all of a sudden becomes a much better fit for this offense, regardless of who is the quarterback for now. Keller could be a key cog in Mornhinweg’s west coast offense and could really boost his value and become a much more productive player for the Jets. The west coast system is much more suited for Keller’s strengths than anything Keller has had during his five years here, so should the Jets roll the dice and re-sign Keller hoping his value will rise with Mornhinweg calling the plays?

As you well know the Jets lack playmakers and while Keller isn’t an explosive game changing player he can certainly make plays, but can he make enough plays consistently to be the weapon the Jets need? The Jets will be strapped for cash this offseason but they will have plenty of room to play around with in the following years and could decide to keep their tight-end more with an eye toward building the 2014 team.

Keller and Landry are the two trickiest contracts to address this offseason, mostly because whether or not they should be retained depends on the market for their services. According to www.spotrac.com the Seahawks Zach Miller is slated to make $6,800,000 as the highest paid tight end in 2013, Marcedes Lewis seventh highest $4,200,000, Owen Daniels eighth $4,000,000, Greg Olsen ninth $3,750,000 and 10th Brent Celek $3,256,000.

Looking at those numbers one would think Keller could absolutely demand four to five million a year, his injury last season might bring that number down a bit and with a list of other available tight ends that are very similar to Keller (Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett, Fred Davis) and a deep crop of college tight ends coming into the league the demand for Keller might not be quite as high as he’d like.

FINAL VERDICT – At the right price it makes sense to retain Keller and hope his production goes up in the new offense, especially if they can surround him with other quality receiving targets who can stay healthy, but he’s not worth over-paying for and even if he was the reason the Jets are in the financial mess they are is because they paid too many players more than they were worth and that trend needs to end if Idzik is going to turn this franchise around.

Part of Keller’s consistencies issues can be traced back to his quarterback and the other problems throughout the offense and no one who follows the Jets would be surprised to see him go elsewhere and become instantly more productive than he was here, but he isn’t good enough to build an offense around and with no actual offense currently in place here he doesn’t have as much value to the Jets as he will to some other teams.

Anything around the three million a year range and the Jets should strongly consider taking a small, low-risk gamble on Keller but you have to think someone will pay him closer to five million a year and if that’s the case that team shouldn’t be the Jets. Let Tampa Bay or whoever else pay him that kind of money and concentrate on investing in more consistent and productive players and draft a tight end or two from this talented bunch of college kids.

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