New York Jets: Wise To Wait On Keller Extension

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For a counterargument to Chris, check out this piece at The Jet Press from Alan Schechter. Who do you agree with? 

It seems that Darrelle Revis is not the only New York Jet seeking a new deal heading into the 2012 season. Recent reports have revealed that Tight End Dustin Keller is also eager to ink an extension with the Jets. However, the former Boilermaker has confirmed that there has been no movement in that area thus far. While Keller is rightfully a fan favorite among the Jets’ faithful for his reliability and chemistry with Quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets would be foolish to jump the gun on committing a long-term deal to the four-year veteran.

Although Keller has proved to have the best chemistry with Sanchez, his contract with New York should, and likely will, be based on how he fits in the new offensive scheme of Tony Sparano. There have been some serious concerns about how Keller will fare under Sparano, primarily due to the amount of blocking the tight end is relied upon for. While Keller has always impressed with his athleticism and receiving skills, blocking has never quite been the strongest part of his game. This is not to say that Keller will not develop into a more efficient blocker under the tutelage of Sparano and new offensive line coach David DeGuglielmo, however this is going to be a major point of focus in working toward a new contract. Keller must prove his worth in this system, otherwise the Jets will surely let him walk. Giving him an extension prior to the season, before evaluating him in any real game situations in the new system, could prove to be a poor waste of money if he ends up struggling under Sparano. Not only would they be wrongly committed to him in years and dollars, but his trade value would likely plummet as well.

While Keller’s blocking ability will be a focal point for how he fits under Sparano, it may not be the deciding factor in whether or not he remains with the Jets beyond 2012. In the event Keller fails to develop into a capable blocker, the Jets could find a more suitable tight end to serve in that role, while allowing Keller to thrive in the receiving role where he has had his greatest success. Last season, Miami Dolphins Tight End Anthony Fasano was tied with Keller in receptions with 65, as well as touchdowns with 5. More impressively, though, Fasano also tied Keller with 12 receptions of 20 or more yards. While Fasano is certainly a higher quality blocker than Keller, he is not nearly as athletic. If Sparano, who emphasizes “chunk plays,” can get that type of receiving production out of Fasano (4.74 40 yard dash), than he should, realistically, be able to work wonders with Keller (4.55 40). If Keller fails to prove his worth as a blocker, but improves dramatically as a receiver in this system, it would be difficult for the Jets to not give Sanchez’s favorite target a new deal. Still, Keller needs to let his play do the negotiating.

While it may be unfair to claim that Keller, coming off of a career year with the Jets, still needs to prove himself in order to obtain a contract extension, it is the reality of the situation. While he did post career highs in three statistical categories last season, he is still nowhere near the production level of an elite tight end at this point in his career. Last season, Keller had 65 receptions for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns. The top five tight ends last year, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten each had 99, 90, 83, 80, and 79 receptions, respectively.

Keller is certainly still young and improving, however he does not yet deserve to be paid like an elite tight end, which is why he wisely would not comment on whether or not Gronkowski’s recent extension gave him leverage. In his second season as a Patriot, Gronkowski set an NFL record for touchdown receptions by a tight end with 17, and had previously caught 10 in his rookie year of 2010, exactly twice the amount of Keller’s career high. Gronkowski has proved to be a perfect fit in the role he plays in the Patriots’ offense. Keller will not comment on Gronkowski’s deal because he knows it has nothing to do with his contract situation.

A realistic contract for Keller would be more comparable to the five year, $37 million extension given to 49ers tight end Vernon Davis prior to the 2010 season. Although Davis was coming off of a career year before he received his deal, his most recent numbers have been very comparable to those of Keller. Last season, Davis had only two more receptions than Keller with 23 fewer yards, and only one more touchdown. If he can prove to be productive in the new system, expect a deal similar to Davis’s for Keller. Again, this is a crucial if.

Patience will need to be very prevalent within Keller’s camp in working toward any movement on a new contract. The Jets will likely not budge, and the tight end will need to let his play do the talking. While it may seem unfair for a player who has done all the right things during his NFL career, while improving his play nearly every year, it is simply the nature of the business. The Jets would be foolish to shell out a bunch of money to a player who is currently surrounded by question marks with regard to how he will fit in the offensive system. Although Keller has become not only a staple of the offense recently, but a leader of the team as well, there is a new offensive coordinator in town, and in a contract year, he needs to earn his money before receiving it.

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