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Dustin Keller needs to be priority for New York Jets

Dustin Keller didn't travel with teammates on Saturday and won't play when the New York Jets close out their season against the Buffalo Bills.

The announcement concludes a lost season for the tight end, who ended up missing eight games -- or half of the season -- due to hamstring and ankle issues.

Keller represents a difficult decision for the Jets in what will be an incredibly important offseason for the franchise. Keller -- a first-round pick by the team in 2008 -- will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. He never missed a game before this season and is easily Mark Sanchez's must-trusted target.

Keller said this week he didn't want the Jets to use their franchise tag on him, and the Jets might not be in the position to give Keller the multiyear deal he covets. A one-year, franchise-tag salary for Keller would be $5.962 million, a figure expected to be within the Jets' budget, according to the New York Daily News.

When healthy, Keller is an above-average pass-catcher and effective blocker in the run game. In a time when the Jets' dearth of offensive weapons reportedly led to coach Rex Ryan thinking about an exit strategy from Florham Park, letting Keller walk out the door makes little sense.

The Jets have to make sure Keller is back in 2013 -- even if the method by which they achieve that goal doesn't sit well with the tight end.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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