FA target #4: Dustin Keller

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I admit to struggling with these google images for Dustin Keller.

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Editor’s note:  I wrote this three weeks ago and didn’t publish because of possible ‘diva’ signs and because I expected the Jets to franchise him rendering the discussion moot.  It turns out the Browns are sniffing around Jared Cook of the Titans and Brandon Myers of the Raiders.  IMO, neither are in Keller’s class.  Also, there’s been surprising little ‘buzz’ on Keller, probably due to his hammy/ankle-restricted poor year last year.  

If we’re going to sign a tight end, I think Keller is the best receiving tight end in the class, the best ‘vertical’ tight end in the class, and shaping up to be somewhat of a bargain.  

Dustin Keller is shaping up to be a steal.

Thus, I say let’s bring him in.

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When I dated a Jets fan a couple years ago, I watched a lot of Jets and grew to like that team.  Dustin Keller got on my radar during that time.  Call it bias or call it informed:  I like him.  A lot.  He’s good.  He can be great.  I’ll circle back to Keller, but I need to write a quick editorial on the cautionary tale that is the dismantling of the 2009 Jets.

TJ + Faneca + Mangold = tough football.
(Not to start a Mangini thing, but: tough Mangini-style football.)

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Splash over substance:  the NY Jets’ cautionary tale.

The turning point of that team’s direction can be traced to one transaction two simultaneous transactions:  releasing Thomas Jones and signing LaDainian Tomlinson.

In the three years TJ was with the Jets he never missed a start.  He averaged ~1300 yds/year.  But what’s more:  he ran tough.  He moved piles.  He was quiet and did his business and behind a great offensive line, the Jets had built a punishing, physical, line-of-scrimmage dominating offense purpose-built to win in December/January which it did.  The 2009 Jets were 9-7.  They won their last two games behind 202 and 257 yards to get the wild card.  They rushed for 171 and 169 in winning two playoff games before losing the championship to the Manning Colts.

You could say, ‘What the hell Kanick:  TJ was 31 and didn’t do much after he left.  LDT was in his 30s too, but hell, the 2010 Jets were 11-5 and won two playoff games.’

Jim Leonhard, not soft.

I say stats don’t tell the whole story.  When you lose TJ and Faneca and bring in LDT and Santonio Holmes to out-diva your current diva plus a flamboyant HC plus a pretty boy QB then add ANOTHER pretty boy QB and you’re the subject of a TV series in the media capital of the universe… you risk going diva.  When you sign Plaxico Burress and Antonio Cromartie you’re moving still further away from 2009; you’re playing fantasy football.  And you’re getting soft.

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All teams need their Jim Leonhards.  The 2009 Jets would beat the shit out of you.  Kerry Rhodes was dumped after 2009 and the Jets have had Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, and LaRon Landry at FS… just another position where they became less intimidating.

The 2012 Jets led the league in high ankle sprains.

The Jets lost their football focus.

Woody Johnson’s goal was back page presence and he got it.  Disaster.

Save Dustin Keller from this before it’s too late.

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Today the splashy Jets are coming off a 6-10 season.  They’re in the worst salary cap situation in the league:  $144MM in 2013 cap hits against a ~$121MM cap.  At the same time the Jets sit ~$20MM over the cap, they have seven starters who are UFAs:  LaRon Landry, Braylon Edwards, Matt Slauson, Bryan Thomas, Yeremiah Bell, Shonn Greene.  And Dustin Keller.

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Back to Keller:  quick bio.

He was an all-everything football and basketball athlete in Lafayette, IN.  Committed to Toledo then reneged to go to Purdue.  (We’ll grudgingly let that slide, I guess.)  Awesome ping-pong player.

Keller was a rookie on Mangini’s last team and managed to work his way into starting six games.  First round pick from Purdue, he’s got the athletic chops to be a top five tight end.  6-2/240, 4.53 40, 41in vertical, 26 225 bench reps.  Was Brett Favre’s favorite.

The numbers are good when you factor in the Jets lethargic offensive system.  He led the team in receptions in 2010 and 2011.  Even in his injury marred 2012, he put up the 2nd best DVOA, behind only Gronkowski.

But more than the stats:  Keller has been the most reliable, the primary go-to receiver for the Jets since Sanchez came in.

The clip below shows a hell of a lot of openness around Keller’s routes.  Brian Schottenheimer is not known as a creative genius, so I have to give some credit for the space to Keller.

[Mute the clip below if you don’t want a soundtrack.]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He_ubWcfEjw?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

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Franchise tag.

The Tight End franchise tag is the smallest of any position; just a hair over $6MM.  In light of this, I expect the Jets to tag Keller, even though they’re in cap hell.  He’s the most reliable offensive weapon they have.

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Diva?

I admit to being off-put by Keller’s signs of trending toward diva.  You can see in the photo up top that a google image search of Dustin Keller yields a lot glam shots and few in game football playing pictures.

Also, here’s what was on his mind in this year’s training camp:

I definitely feel that I’m a Pro Bowl tight end,” Keller told the Daily News. “And I feel that will happen this year.”

“I’m in my prime right now,” Keller, 27, said. “This is going to be my best year yet… I will be a huge part of this offense.”

He even predicted big things for fantasy football owners that draft him.

“They’re going to get a great pick,” Keller said with a smile. “Regardless of what round they pick me, it’s going to be a sleeper, for sure.”

Maybe it’s not a big thing.

Just like all of you, I’ve got no want of someone who views Cleveland as Siberia.  Keller has had a taste of the bright lights in NYC.  But on the other hand he was raised in Lafayette, IN and so his midwest credentials are in order.

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Verdict.

If we’re fixin to drop $7MM/yr on Jared Cook, I’d rather float that past Dustin Keller first.  If he’s as smart as he seems to be, he should be pumped at chance to be a star here.

Because we don’t have one and it turns out good teams have stars.

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Addendum.

The reviving of this post is in response to two posts I saw yesterday.  Kolonich makes a case at theOBR for Cook and Myers here.  Stinchcomb from DBN loves him some Cook here.

My rationale for Keller starts with this comment in Kolonich’s piece.

can i just raise my hand for dustin keller at TE?  

this simplest way to differentiate him from myers and cook:
the jets haven’t signed him due to their cap hell.
the titans can afford cook but are choosing to go with craig stevens.

wrt to myers, he is not a stretch-the-field guy.  if we believe the chud-goes-vert talk, keller can actually offer that.

i think keller goes cheap because of his pulled hammy, ankle sprain last year.  a rare bargain for a top flight player.

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  • zarathustra

    Spot fucking on with your jets diagnosis. I have a different view than you on how the browns should handle free agency this year and would not typically be on board with spending money on a tight end, but I think you have sold me on keller. If you remove the sanchize tax on his numbers and put him in the chud/norv offense I think it may prove to be a bargain contract.

    • i know right? when i was watching the jets with mangold, faneca, ferguson, woody; thomas jones moved that line. seemed like he always pushed it an extra two or three yards. it wasn’t pretty but they wore out the other other DL. TJ was the key.

      glad i’m not the only one.