The New York Jets Need to Extend Dustin Keller's Contract

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst IJune 13, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 27:  Dustin Keller #81 of the New York Jets scores a touchdown as  Justin Rogers #26 of the Buffalo Bills is late with the tackle during their game on November 27, 2011 at  MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

As the New York Jets continue their search for a No. 2 receiver to slot opposite Santonio Holmes, they are simultaneously playing hardball with Mark Sanchez's most consistent target.

Tight end Dustin Keller has been a reliable producer for this team from the day he was drafted in 2008, and the Jets need to reward him with a contract extension.

The numbers don't lie: Keller has 213 receptions in his first four years in the league, and he has totaled over 500 receiving yards in each season. The Jets' tight end has seen his receptions and yards increase from 45-522 in 2010 to 55-687 in 2011 and to 65-815 in 2012.

Dustin Keller has been the most consistent offensive skill player on the Jets' team over the past three seasons.

Keller has grown into a reliable safety valve for Mark Sanchez, who has proven to be much more comfortable throwing between the hashmarks, where a player like Keller thrives. Keller is a reliable third-down weapon who has the speed and agility to create space against linebackers and the size to shield passing lanes from safeties.

He's a critical component of the Jet offense, even though he was underutilized by former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Too often over the last two seasons would Keller have a huge game or two, followed by a game in which he received a perplexing lack of targets. The Jets have been guilty of trying to force the ball outside to players such as Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Braylon Edwards when the matchups weren't necessarily available. 

Now, Burress and Edwards are both gone, leaving the Jets searching for a "proven" second option at receiver. But why not Keller?

Despite his on- and off-field struggles last year, Holmes remains an every-down threat as a No. 1 receiver, requiring safety help that can open up the field for a player with Keller's talent set. With speedy players like Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley as third and fourth options, defenses will have difficulty covering the whole field.

Keller brings more than his on-field game, too; he's quickly emerging as one of the locker-room leaders of the Jet offense. Reports out of training camp indicate that he has become more outspoken and is embracing this role. The Jets have been searching for leadership on offense following their December 2011 meltdown, and Keller is an ideal place to start.

The Patriots have shown the Jets firsthand how much of an offensive force pass-catching tight ends can be. Keller doesn't have the body of Rob Gronkowski, but he does have the agility and pass-catching instincts of Aaron Hernandez.

The Jets' No. 2 pass-catching target is already on their roster. It would be a shame if they didn't lock him up for years to come.