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Dustin Keller wants to return to Jets but likely will test free agency

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer

Keller would like to return to New York, but at this point, it's unclear. (USATSI)
Keller would like to return to New York. But at this point, that's unclear. (USATSI)

When you think of who might be leaving the Jets soon (Darrelle Revis, Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez), Dustin Keller's name isn't usually found at the top of the list. Unlike the other three, Keller is actually a free agent this offseason and, aside from Tebow, is the most likely not to be on the squad next season.

But here's the thing: Keller says he wants to return to New York if possible.

“I kind of view free agency like the draft -- at this point, I don't know where anyone stands, including the Jets, but everything will take care of itself,” Keller told the NY Post. “I'm not stressing myself out about where I'm going to be, I'm just going to continue to work my butt off this offseason so I'm ready no matter where I'm going to be …

“Yeah, I'd like to return. I have a lot of great friends on the team, and I've always thought of myself as a key piece of the offense there. But if I'm not there, that's fine, too. There are no hard feelings. I understand it's a business for the Jets. But at this point, it's a business decision for me as well.”

Unfortunately for Keller, he's coming off the worst year of his career. In his first four seasons in the league, he averaged 53.5 catches per year to go with 15 total touchdowns. But in 2012, he only played eight games because of hamstring and ankle injuries and finished with just 28 receptions and two scores.

The Post points out Keller wanted to sign a long-term extension before last season, but the Jets weren't interested. As a result, Keller now says that he “deserve[s] the right to see what else is out there.”

The Jets and Keller's agent met at the NFL Scouting Combine, but Keller said he and new general manager John Idzik haven't talked. Keller has, however, had a conversation with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and Keller said Mornhinweg made it clear that he wants Keller on the team.

But the Jets also have a tricky salary-cap situation.

They've already shed about $32 million in cap space, but the uncertainty about star cornerback Darrelle Revis isn't making things easier.

While CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora writes that the Jets will try hard to re-sign defensive tackle Mike DeVito, players like Keller, LaRon Landry and Shonn Greene might not be retained. Despite his unimpressive year in 2012, Keller thinks he has proven during his career that he's a valuable asset.

“The thing I want teams to realize is that I played my first four years in the NFL without missing a single practice, let alone a game,” Keller said. “I'm not some injury-prone player that teams have to worry about. Both of my injuries were non-contact injuries, so they were just fluke incidents. I don't think people realize that there is a 100-percent injury rate for players in the NFL, and my injuries were minor.”

Keller, for what it's worth, is ranked No. 63 in our top 100 free agents, behind tight ends Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett and Tony Gonzalez.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Josh Katzowitz on Twitter here: @joshkatzowitz.

 
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