Tight end hasn't been a major issue for Gang Green since they drafted Dustin Keller in the first round in 2008. This offseason Keller took his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Dolphins and the Jets are now looking to see who will supplant the starting role to begin the season.
It will be interesting to see who seizes control in a group that has a banged up veteran, career backup, and a raw talent from Australia. The key factor will be which player's skillset best fits the West Coast system; traditionally a playbook that relies on timing and short passes.
Position Battle: Tight End
Frontrunner: Kellen Winslow Jr.
Winslow Jr.'s creaky knees are the biggest issue when the Jets signed him to a one-year deal worth $840,000 a few weeks ago. The contract doesn't have any guaranteed money included, which spares the Jets any worriment if he fails to make it through the season, or even training camp for that matter. He is, by far, the most talented tight end on the roster but at 30 he is a shell of his former self.
He didn't post impressive numbers last season after he bounced around a couple of teams. His previous season in Tampa Bay he reeled in 75 passes for 763 yards while being a reliable option for quarterback Josh Freeman. The Jets could use a safety valve for vertical threat Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes.
In the Hunt: Jeff Cumberland
Cumberland started 12 games last year after Dustin Keller went down due to injury and provided the Jets with 29 catches for 359 yards. He played some in 2011, showing athletic promise before he went down with a torn Achilles against the Oakland Raiders.
The team hasn't shown much faith in Cumberland after his inability to run away with the job after his subpar numbers in 2012. He isn't a great blocker at the line of scrimmage, so becoming more potent in that area, along with knowledge of Morninweg's system, will go a long way in giving Cumberland a shot at competing for the starting job.
Darkhorse: Hayden Smith
He may have the most talent out of the three, but it is tough to translate that talent to success when you have a steep learning curve. The 28-year-old former Australian rugby player has already gotten some of the basics down in the NFL and is looking forward to becoming just another player in trying to learn the playbook.
Smith made a lot of nice catches in spring practice and with another year under his belt may be ready to prove that he is capable of becoming a starting tight end. He might be best served to try and make the team through special teams and hope that it will create the opportunity for him to showcase his athleticism.