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Assessing the Roster- Tight End

Dustin Keller- A disaster of a season for Keller, who spent almost all his year on the sidelines nursing injury, who was hoping for a breakout season as he prepared for free agency. I have always had a difficult time evaluating Keller. Statistically, even taking the injury into account, he has been excellent. By excellent I mean that while he will never be confused with Antonio Gates in his prime he compared favorably as a receiver with almost every ďtier 2Ē Tight End- Heath Miller, Marcedes Lewis, Greg Olsen, etcÖ- which is going to earn him a contract just under $7 million a season over a 5 year period. But just like how most of those players donít deserve that kind of money I cant say Keller does either. Wathcing him play each and every week you just donít see the consistency. Normally when you think of the Tight End position names like Ditka and Bavaro pop in your head. Tough guys dragging players into an end zone. With Keller I see a player with no awareness of the field and a guy who gets the ball taken from his hands.

People (and by people I probably mean myself since Im sure Iíve said it numerous times) say Keller is a bust as a first round draft pick, but thatís really not the case. While he is missing that one great year on the resume that a Jeremy Shockey may have had his numbers fit right in with everyone else picked around there. Its more an issue of a team overvaluing the position in the draft relative to the production. The Jets expected Keller to be that breed of Tight End that eliminates the need for a Wide Receiver. When the Jets traded for Santonio Holmes in 2010 I think they acknowledged that they understood Keller would never be that guy. That doesnít make him useless, just not worth the money he is expected to command.

Keller brings something to the table provided you have a two TE system. Unlike a guy like Miller he absolutely can not block. He is a wasted position as a blocker. However, in the right system, he is going to be a threat in the middle of field. Im not sure how he would have fared this season and in some ways the injury may have been a blessing in disguise since an non-critical injury can be better than a terrible statistical year and Keller was going to be part of a bad team this year. There is a perception that the Jets win when he plays well and this season helped that perception. I donít think Keller will ever be the Rob Gronkowski type of player but there is certainly a benefit to having him on your team.

Jeff Cumberland- While the yardage totals were nowhere near what you would get from Keller, Cumberland had a respectable year for the team. It was his first real opportunity to produce and he produced similar per reception numbers as Keller did. Like Keller he only has value as a wide receiver and is worthless blocking for the team. He had one or two bad drops on the year but was also missed a few times while wide open. I think Cumberland is the type of player that has the potential to put together that one miracle season in which he catches 40-50 passes for 600 yards to trick someone into a decent sized contract.

Konrad Reuland- Really more of a H-back than a tight end. His value as a receiver is basically as the emergency outlet on a play. As a run blocker there were numerous plays where Reuland seemed to be the person responsible for missing an assignment or allowing the defender to shed the block and make the stop. He seemed to be a player that the Jets used more out of necessity than desire.

Hayden Smith- You cant really even grade Smith. He spent most of the season on the practice squad and when he finally got called up he didnít play much. The Jets guaranteed Smith a large portion of his salary considering he had almost no football experience which is a big reason why he ended up on the team. Smith is big and should be a pretty good athlete but nobody knows if he can or cant play at this level.

Dedrick Epps- Spent most of the season on the injured list after getting speared making a catch on a Tim Tebow pass. Hes been a career practice squad player and probably has limited future in the NFL.

Overall

The big question is what happens with Keller. The fact that the Jets allowed him to play out his rookie deal at a 3+ million dollar cap charge tells you that they have no intention of signing him long term. Maybe a new front office will, but these guys do not and I think thatís actually a pretty smart move. The Tight End position carries a very low franchise tag number and it might make sense for the Jets to protect their asset by tagging him. The franchise tag is only $5.9 million, which means you could tag him for two years and save money one what he would earn without the tag. It also lets you control his trade rights that way. If they feel interest in him is very lukewarm the transition tag is an option and it will save almost $1 million. I think the injury puts him more in a position where he has to accept the tag and then try to do his best to force them to not tag him again in 2014. Right now I think he will be back next season.

Cumberland is a restricted free agent which means he is pretty much stuck. The Jets could sign him to a low cost 3 year deal or just extend the tender and probably get him to sign for $1 million or so in guaranteed money. He can definitely provide a role and I think if Keller comes back you can consider moving Cumberland to WR since the depth is so poor there. He is not a downgrade over players like Clyde Gates.

The other three names seem like camp names that will need to battle for roster spots. I think the Jets need to consider finding that dual threat Tight End. I actually think Anthony Fasano provides more value at $4 million or so a year than Keller would at $7 million because he can play two ways. While the Jets wont bring Fasano in they could really use someone like that. Ben Hartsock was close a few years ago but did not have good hands. If the Jets can find someone who is a good blocker but can leak out and catch 15-25 passes a year, primarily in red zone situations, the offense would be helped tremendously. I think itís a clear mid-round draft selection that they need to consider.

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