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Thursday, February 7, 2013
Positional analysis: Tight end

By Rich Cimini

This is part four in a nine-part analysis of the Jets -- a position-by-position breakdown as we head toward the scouting combine and free agency:

TIGHT END

2012 depth chart: Dustin Keller (starter/injured), Jeff Cumberland, Konrad Reuland, Hayden Smith, Josh Baker (injured).

Dustin Keller
Dustin Keller played in only eight games in 2012, making 28 catches for 317 yards and two TDs.
Overview: The tight ends combined for only 69 receptions last season. The biggest reasons were Keller's hamstring and ankle injuries, which cost him eight games. He never really had an extended stretch of healthy football, sabotaging his contract year. Another reason for the low production was Tony Sparano's scheme, which wasn't tight-end friendly. Cumberland displayed some big-play ability -- six of his 29 receptions went for 20-plus yards -- but he was an inconsistent route runner and made mental mistakes in hot-read situations. Reuland played mostly as an H-back, doing the dirty work.

Free agents: Keller, Cumberland (restricted).

2013 personnel preview: Keller has Pro Bowl-caliber ability if used correctly, and now the Jets have a system -- the West Coast offense -- that suits his pass-catching skill set. On paper, it should be an ideal marriage, but money could get in the way. Doesn't it always? Even though he's coming off a disappointing year, Keller is bound to draw interest and could price himself out of the Jets' range -- if they allow him to hit the open market. They could make a push to sign him before that, but they won't break the bank. Remember, the Jets took a pass last offseason when Keller wanted to talk long-term deal. Cumberland is a solid No. 2, with room to improve. There's nothing special about him, bu he could be the starter by default. Baker has some value because of his receiving skills, assuming he's recovered from a serious knee injury. There's not a sturdy blocker in the bunch.

Salary-cap situation: The Jets could opt to put the franchise tag (about $6 million) or the transition tag ($5.1 million) on Keller, but that would eat up a lot of valuable cap space. What about a tag-and-trade? It's possible, but unlikely. They'd recoup only a middle-round pick for Keller, whose value is sagging because of last season's injuries. Some team will get a great deal.