It took until minicamp for the Jets to add a veteran tight end but last week’s signing of Kellen Winslow Jr. could be one of the team’s biggest moves of the offseason to date.
Earlier this offseason, the Jets lost veteran Dustin Keller, a favorite target of quarterback Mark Sanchez over the past few years. The move to cut ties with Keller was done as part of the purge by new general manager John Idzik, who trimmed the fat on the roster and Keller, who underperformed at times and was a suspect blocker, fell into that category.
Under Idzik, the Jets are trying to shed the label of being a circus. In his first interview since signing with the Jets last week, Winslow Jr. told Metro New York he wasn’t scared off by that perception. Instead, he cites head coach Rex Ryan as a big reason why he signed with the Jets.
“You see what’s on the internet and stuff like that and see what’s on TV. They’re just getting picked on I guess,” Winslow Jr. said. “Sometimes teams get the blame and there’s not much you can do about it. It didn’t scare me off at all. I love Rex.”
His contract with the team is a one-year deal, per a team source.
Minicamp ended for the Jets last Thursday and Winslow Jr. spent that night in New Jersey. The next day he went through a physical and blood work before signing with the team.
It was an impressive three days at minicamp for Winslow Jr., especially considering he played just one game last year in New England due to injuries. He came into minicamp without the benefit of offseason conditioning or even organized team activities (OTAs). He looked explosive and made a number of catches in drills and during the team portions of minicamp.
Recently, Winslow Jr. has taken up cycling and plans on upping his mileage in order to get into better shape for training camp in late July. In addition, he will be sprinting more as part of his workout routine.
He also was invited and will attend the Jets West camp being run by Sanchez in California in a couple of weeks.
“Well, I just see the kind of presence he has. We threw him some things in the red zone,” Ryan said during minicamp. “We do different things like that. He’s still a very athletic guy. How many catches he had specifically, I’m not sure. But you certainly feel his presence.”
Since being the No. 6 selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, Winslow Jr. has been with four teams before coming to the Jets. Five times in his career he’s had 60 or more receptions in a season and he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007. Blocking is not his strong suit, but he is someone who can stretch the field and go over the middle for a tough catch, an ideal fit for the Jets as they install the West Coast offense this year.
Jets nose tackle Antonio Garay was with the Browns during the tight end’s rookie season and he said during minicamp that even though Winslow Jr. was a first-year player, he was impressed with his dedication.
“There’s one thing I remember, he was always on that Jugs Machine, catching balls,” Garay said. “He was always on it, making catches. I still remember that, the amount of time he spent on there trying to get better.”
Winslow Jr. was a part of last week’s minicamp as a tryout player but he showed enough to earn a contract with the Jets, solidifying a position of need. It was an under-the-radar move by the team and one that can help boost what looked in minicamp to be an underwhelming passing attack.
He’s not in football shape yet, but he’s closing in on it.
“Not yet. I guess for minicamps and OTAs and that sort of stuff, yeah — but not even close,” Winslow Jr. said. “That’s why you have to keep training and get ready for training camp. Once you put the pads on, it’s a whole different game. But 7-on-7 and stuff like that, yeah, it felt good.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for more offseason news.