Jermaine Kearse’s desire to stay home apparently won’t come cheaply.
Good for Kearse.
Seahawks fans’ immediate reaction to what the Seahawks’ No. 2 receiver on the cusp of free agency March 9 told ESPN’s Schefter, according to this Facebook post may be betrayal. That Kearse is being greedy if not blasphemous to his hometown team. That this is counter to what the native of Lakewood, former Lakes High School star and University of Washington standout told me in the locker room Sunday following the season-ending playoff loss at Carolina: “I mean, I grew up in the state of Washington. I would love to be here. But there are going to have to be decisions that are going to have to be made, and we are just going to have to see when that time comes.”
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No, it’s not. Kearse deserves the right to shop.
To believe Irvin is being the good guy and Kearse the callous one here ignores the fact that in terms of financial security, Kearse’s career so far has been opposite Irvin’s.
Irvin, also due to become an unrestricted free agent March 9 unless the Seahawks sign him to an extension before then, was Seattle’s first-round draft choice, 15th overall, in 2012. Know what round Kearse got drafted in that same year? He didn’t. Seattle signed him after the draft as an undrafted rookie free agent out of UW.
Irvin, the linebacker and pass rusher out of West Virginia, got a four-year contract with an average total value, including signing bonus, of $2,335,500 per season and more than $9.34 million fully guaranteed. Even if he woefully underperformed -- which he did not, becoming a valued, every-down linebacker -- there was little chance of Seattle releasing him with all the money it invested in him.
Kearse? He began his NFL career living week to week in 2012 rookie minicamps hoping that playing every special-teams unit and catching enough passes on the side from some fellow rookie, third-round draft choice named Russell Wilson would earn him a place in the next minicamp. Then that summer’s training camp. When he made the team as a scrappy, surprising special-teams player in 2012 he got the league’s minimum salary of $390,000. The next season he remained tied for the lowest-paid player in the league at $480,000 -- while emerging as a trusted target for Wilson. He caught four touchdown passes in the 2013 regular season, another in the NFC title-game win over San Francisco and another in the rout of Denver in Super Bowl 48.
In 2014, same thing: his was the NFL minimum salary for two-year veterans, $570,000. All he did that year was continue his postseason performances with TDs against Carolina in the divisional round and then the post route and grab in the end zone in overtime to finish the Seahawks’ miraculous comeback from 12 points down late to beat Green Bay in overtime and send Seattle back to the Super Bowl. Late in Super Bowl 49, Kearse made a ridiculous, juggling catch while on his back and off his leg to put Seattle in position for its final, fateful play from the 1-yard line.
Kearse got his first raise after that game. Last spring he signed the Seahawks’ tender offer of $2,356,000 on a one-year contract for 2015 as a restricted free agent.
Now, after he had a career-high 11 catches and two more postseason touchdown receptions last weekend in the 31-24 loss to the Panthers, he finally gets the chance to have no financial restrictions -- literally. He can become an unrestricted free agent March 9.
Of course he wants to stay where he grew up the son of an Army sergeant at Fort Lewis. He just got married this past year. And he very well may remain a Seahawk for years by agreeing to a new contract with Seattle in March. But I don’t begrudge Kearse for wanting to know his market value and potential security in a sport scarce in that commodity, after years of living year to year on the very bottom of the NFL’s pay scale.
This first free-agent payday is why every college and pro football player trains year-round and largely risks his long-term health. Kearse is seven weeks away from potentially getting his. This isn’t about what he already makes compared to you and me -- that comparison went out of whack about, oh, 40 years ago when players stopped needing to have offseason jobs to supplement their relatively modest salaries. This is about him seeking and at the very least learning his value is within the booming industry he works, and has recently excelled.
In an industry with annual revenues that pile in the billions upon billions, what’s wrong with that?