Former Jets and current Miami Dolphins starting tight end Dustin Keller suffered, what could be a career-threatening knee injury, on Saturday night against the Houston Texans when rookie safety D.J. Swearinger went low and hit Keller’s right knee—Keller’s leg bent awkwardly; his knee pretty much exploding once Swearinger’s helmet made contact with the tight end’s knee. He tore his MCL, PCL and ACL and also dislocated his knee, according to ESPN.com.
It was gruesome to watch, but also very sad. No one wants to witness a player suffer a season-ending injury—let alone an injury that may derail a player’s career for good. But, unfortunately, that may just be what Dustin Keller suffered.
You can see how severe the injury was, below:
This is how Dustin Keller's knee went one way, and lower leg went another. pic.twitter.com/LrkeIJoqBb
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) August 18, 2013
The way his lower leg and knee are angled, it doesn’t look like the type of injury a player come back from within a year; leaving Keller with nowhere to go when, or IF he comes back. And that’s a big ‘if’.
NFL players experience injury all the time. It’s part of the game. But even when vicious injuries like this happen, one can’t help what feelings may arise. A few days after the injury, a few players came out and showed their displeasure with the hit. Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez called the hit ‘ridiculous’, and blamed the new NFL rule that outlaws high hits (mainly the head area). “That was ridiculous on his part. It should be a fineable offense. That’s just not part of football — hitting a defenseless player in his knee, that’s something we all dread as players,” said Gonzalez.
Of course D.J. Swearinger didn’t hit Keller with bad intentions, but the rookie is still receiving a lot of heat for the hit. The safety’s defense is that he was playing according to the NFL’s new rule. “I was making a hit playing football. In this league, you’ve got to go low. If you go high, you’re going to get a fine,” said Swearinger.
Ah, the rule change. Because of where Keller was hit, Swearinger was not fined or penalized—at least not yet. The rule change outlaws hits to the head area, but that’s where it gets tricky. Some players would rather get hit higher, than get hit low and possibly suffer a career-ending injury, taking away all they’ve known for decades. Some players would rather get hit low and not get hit near or on the head for fear of concussions and the long term repercussion: Brain trauma.
So how does the league and its players go about playing a violent game more safely? It’s almost impossible. Most of these football players have been playing football for decades, so how can they unteach themselves what they’ve been doing for years? Tacklers are not consciously trying to hurt a player; they’re just reacting to plays. There’s really no way to adjust mid-tackle, or for a receiver to have time to brace for a hit, when the game moves at such a fast pace.
So who’s right and who’s wrong in this case? Opinions will vary throughout, but one thing is certain: it will take Dustin Keller a long time to recover from this injury.
The tight end didn’t receive a long-term deal with the Miami Dolphins, only securing a one-year contract with the team worth $4.5 million. But that was on Keller; Keller thought that if he had a productive 2013 season with the Dolphins he would land a big contract after the season. It was a big gamble, but all he had to do was stay healthy. The tight end showed flashes of potential with the New York Jets, his best year coming in 2011 when he finished the season with 65 receptions, 815 yards and five touchdowns. Last season was supposed to be his year, but injuries sidelined him for eight games. The Jets decided not to bring him back, so he spent some time in the free agent market—where no team showed enough interest—before landing with the Dolphins.
Now, no one knows where Keller will end up, or what his future is. It all depends on how Keller responds, but it will be a long road for him.