Estimating the Value of Dustin Keller
With Rich Cimini breaking the story that the Jets have begun preliminary discussions with TE Dustin Keller on a contract extension I decided to do a quick valuation on Keller and estimate what he could receive from the Jets. Keller is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $3,052,500 in base salary this season. He is a former first round pick who at times shows the promise of a top level player and at others makes everyone scratch their heads. Some point to Kellerís game by game statistical inconsistencies but that seems to be pretty normal for most young tight ends. I think the more worrisome thing is when you watch him and wonder if he even realizes there is a game going on during certain plays where the ball is bouncing off his helmet.
In trying to put a number on Keller I have 8 players who I wanted to look for comparison. Each of these players were still on or just coming off rookie contracts when they signed their extensions or new deals so they would be in a similar position as Keller. Those who have read this work in the past know that I like to look at 3 year averages to get an idea of what the normal level of production is for the player. The stats presented are all in the 3 years prior to signing their contract. For example Kellen Winslowís 3 year average is not 2009-2011, but 2006-2008. I think this gives a fairer picture of what the market should be for a player.
|Name||G||RPG||YPG||TDPG||% Tgts Caught|
Kellerís best asset is that he is durable and is only 1 of 3 players to play in all 48 games prior to the new deal. His YPG ranks him 4th and is slightly above the average for the grouping. His receptions are right around the average and TDs just a bit below the average. Those are all solid numbers. The most troublesome part of his game is percentage of targets caught. He is dead last in the group and itís by a wide margin. Almost every other player is at 60% and Keller is only at 55%. I think that plays into the theory that he doesnít show the same concentration others do on the football field. It is noticeable when he plays and I think this stat bears it out. Some may say that he is playing with an inaccurate QB, but it is not as if Winslow, Davis, Z. Miller, Olsen, and Lewis were playing with Joe Montana on Sunday afternoon.
I rated the group under two systems. One is percentage above or below the average in each category and then summed them up for a total score. Under this criteria the top player was Kellen Winslow with a 58.3%. Jermichael Finley ranked 2nd at 48.6% and Vernon Davis ranked 3rd at 38.6%. Those 3 were the clear elite level of this group. Keller ranked 7th with a -21.9%, which was above of Lewis and Celek. The second ranking was simply rating them 1-9 in each category and summing the scores. In this situation the lower the score the better the player. Finley ranked 1st with 19 points while Davis and Winslow tied with 21 points. Keller again ranked 7th with a score of 26, again ahead of Lewis and Celek.
Keller is certainly hurt by the poor catch percentage and the fact that he doesnít really stand out in any of the other categories. Working in Kellerís favor is the fact that he has improved every year in his numbers and the only other player to do that was Celek, who started from almost nothing his first two years, and Heath Miller. He has also becoming a scoring threat posting what would be above average numbers the last two years in that category. Under a weighted scoring system, with the most weight given to the most recent year before the contract, he would probably rank 5th.
So lets look at some numbers. Other than Finley the minimum deal was 4 years with most receiving 5 years. Considering the new CBA only allows you to prorate money for 5 years I would lean towards a 4 year extension which would equal a 5 year contract, but if the Jets are looking to lower his cap charges they probably would do a 5 year extension with an option bonus coming in 2013. Now I believe the Winslow deal is too old for real comparison, but the others should hold up. Davis and Finley top the list at $7 million plus. They grade much better than Keller.
The contract that works the most in Kellerís favor is the Lewis one. The Jaguars overpaid badly for Lewis at $6.8 million a year. He was a mediocre player who happened to have one decent year in his walk year which netted him the franchise tag and another 4 years on top of that this past summer. I guess they were using the Heath Miller contract as a gauge who was steady but unspectacular and assumed his average should be around that, but that is just a guess. Most likely the Jets will be looking at that deal but more specifically the Zach Miller contract from this past offseason as the starting points. Was Zach Miller the better player? The numbers seem to indicate it but it is close. Both are receivers first and played with mediocre QBs with questionable receivers on the team. Miller bombed in Seattle this year but that is irrelevant to the discussion.
Miller received $6.8 million a year just like Lewis and a touch more than Heath Miller. The real difference in the Lewis deal with both Miller contracts is in the 3 year totals. Lewis will only make $20.35 million in the first 3 years of the deal whereas Zach Miller will make $23 million. Heath made about $22.6 million. That was the safety net that the Jaguars built into the Lewis deal. High APY but lower real expected payouts. Miller received $17 million in guarantees, mainly fully guaranteed while Lewis had $14 million in his deal, of which only $13 million was really guaranteed.
So I think that is the structure we will see with Keller. He will probably command somewhere between $6.8 and $6.9 million a season with guarantees right around the $17 million mark. The Jets have a tendency to go higher than other teams in guarantees so I could also see them topping that, though they really have all the leverage here since the franchise tags are so low at the position. So here is a guess at a feasible contract.
The Jets will reduce Kellerís base salary in 2012 back to $1,052,000 and pay him the balance as a $2 million dollar signing bonus. In 2013 Keller would receive an option bonus of $9,500,000, which would be backed by guarantees of future pay that voids when the bonus is earned. The 2012-2014 base salaries would be guaranteed for injury and that would become a skill guarantee once he was on the roster in the 2013 League Year. He would also have an injury guaranteed roster bonus of $1.5 million in 2014. 2015 would be the year that the cap charges would begin to rise with the Jets owing $6 million in pay, splitting half of it between an early offseason roster bonus and base salary. This gives the Jets an opportunity to prorate more money if need be and it gives Keller the security of knowing the Jets will have to cut Keller early in free agency if they do not want to pay the salary. 2017 would essentially be a dummy year. The extension would be 5 years, $34.25 million, $17.05 million in guarantees, and $23.45 million paid in the first three years. Here is a snapshot of the cap charges:
If it were up to me would I extend Keller? Probably not. Some work I had done on Tight Ends indicated that most TE’s see their biggest seasons in year 5 and year 6 before the decline begins. That is not the case for the elite level guys like a Jason Witten, but Keller shows no signs of being that. To me it’s a bargain to keep him around for about $4 million this year and then $6 million or so on a tag next season to put up monster years and then let him walk. You run the risk of being fooled into doling out the big contract later, but most likely its just the natural course of a career and it’s a risk you take to let him go then. But if the team decides to extend him there are plenty of ways to do a deal that wont hurt the team capwise for some time.