The Jets released Chris Baker in February and the Patriots wasted little time scooping up the veteran tight end.
"I was kind of surprised," Dustin Keller said this week. "It's always the Jets and the Patriots going at it, but I think it's going to be a great fit for him. I think he's going to do well. Every time he played against them, he had a good game. He's going to be in that stadium [Gillette] every week, so it's going to be really good for him."
We'll never know if the Jets would have preferred to keep Baker at a more cap-friendly number, but it was Keller's emergence as a rookie that made any release possible. Keller became a Brett Favre favorite and finished with 48 receptions while Baker has averaged 21 catches over his seven-year career.
The 24-year-old Keller says Baker proved to be a good mentor.
"When you go from a college tight end to an NFL tight end, of course guys are a lot faster. He helped me with my spacing on routes and sometimes my footwork, which I learned from Bubba [Franks] also," Keller said. " He played with Kellen [Clemens] and Chad [Pennington], so when I first got here he told me what they normally do."
Baker (6'3", 258) was a solid run blocker and his contributions could be missed in that department. Keller, a bit smaller at 6'2", 245, is on a mission to prove he can be more than just an adequate blocker.
"I definitely want to prove people wrong. It's something I like — I like people to say I can't do something," he said. "At every single level, I've competed, so I'm going to continue to do that."
The Jets have a new head coach in Rex Ryan, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has returned and TE coach Mike Devlin is also back for another season. So Keller won't have to learn a new system and he has already established a relationship with his position coach.
"I became more comfortable with the offense as the year progressed," Keller said. "I worked on blocking with Coach Devlin on hand placement and footwork and things should get better from here on out."
Keller, who is always a matchup problem because of his speed, says he's trying to get up to 250 to "become more of a full-time guy." Since Laveranues Coles also left via the free agency route, Keller's first -year catch total ranks second among the Jets' returning pass catchers. He figures to be counted on even more in his sophomore season and has begun getting reps in with the Jets' quarterbacks.
"Kellen and Ratty are both looking really good out there right now," he says. "We throw twice a week and both of them have been putting the ball where it needs to be, so we have a nice little competition."