When the Jets signed free agent tight end and former Brown’s first round pick Kellen Winslow Jr., the fan base had a mixed reaction of excitement and skepticism. Most of the excitement stemmed from the lack of adding anyone remotely talented at the tight end position and the skepticism was due to Winslow Jr. barely playing in the NFL last season. The main concern with Winslow is how healthy his knees are, an issue only Winslow himself could detail for you. As that question will answer itself throughout training camp, I’ve also seen another issue raised by the media every time Winslow’s name is brought up: his age.
Kellen will be 30 years old this season, an age where players who rely on their speed to compete in the NFL are often tested. Fortunately, tight ends have a better longevity than most positions as these players use their size and underneath route running, more so than vertical, deeper routes. Winslow had a very productive 2011 season in Tampa Bay, catching 75 passes for 763 yards and 2 touchdowns with the anemic Josh Freeman as his quarterback. Tampa Bay then traded Winslow Jr. to Seattle, possibly due to an attendance conflict over OTA’s. After spending training camp with Seattle, he was released on September 1st for refusing to lower his salary. After his brief tenure with Seattle, the New England Patriots signed Winslow Jr. but granted his release request after only appearing in one game.
Reports have surfaced that Kellen requested his release due to playing through pain in his knees, but there are other reports stating he wanted to catch on with another team. The latter seems to be quite believable considering the Patriots had Aaron Hernandez and a healthy Rob Gronkowski starting at tight end, with Visanthe Shiancoe gearing up to return from the IR. Winslow Jr. has demonstrated a unique attitude in the past and may have realized he would receive little reps with the Patriots while hoping to earn a big contract in the coming offseason. Unfortunately for Kellen, he didn’t receive an opportunity until the Jets gave him a mini camp tryout almost 9 months later, where he successfully earned a contract with the team for the 2013-2014 season. So Jets nation, what can we expect from Winslow Jr.?
If his knees aren’t truly a problem and he just needs a team to call “home”, Winslow Jr. can have a big year as he would be a main target on the Jets offense. This past season, three of the top five tight end receptions leaders were thirty or older (Jason Witten, Heath Miller, Tony Gonzalez). In 2010, both Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates made the Pro Bowl playing past the age of 30. In 2011 Gates made the pro bowl again, along with Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez, both had surpassed age 30. In 2012 Gates and Gonzalez both went back to the Pro Bowl again.
The overall point is that age 30 isn’t exactly a “wall” for tight ends. It’s a position based on sure hands, finding space between the zone, and building chemistry with your quarterback. From 2006-2011, Kellen Winslow Jr. missed six games, which were all during the 2010 season. While his knees are definitely a concern along with his mysterious, lost 2012 season, the man appears to hungrier than ever (time out of the league will certainly do that). The last time the Jets signed a player coming off a lost season, he came back on a mission, making the Pro Bowl and earning a big time contract with the Colts (LaRon Landry). Will Kellen Winslow Jr. be the next reclamation project from Gang Green? I wouldn’t count him out, never count out a solider.