His hometown, his high school coach -- heck, even the Washington state Legislature and its secretary of state -- think Jermaine Kearse is perfectly fine as a Seahawk.
But will he remain one?
Tuesday, three weeks plus one day before he begins learning his NFL future at the start of free agency, Kearse was back home in Lakewood for an event at Clover Park Technical College for his foundation. The day included the former standout at Lakes High School and the University of Washington talking and playing ping-pong with Clover Park student leaders. Just after noon he delievered a speech on how his charity, the 15 to 1 Jermaine Kearse Foundation, seeks to provide opportunity for youth. His audience included about 400 students from Clover Park and his nearby Lakes High for the event called “All In: A Champion’s Mindset with Hometown Hero Jermaine Kearse.”
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One of the first people Kearse saw when he arrived at the Clover Park events center was Dave Miller. His football coach at Lakes is still leading the Lancers’ program.
“Man, I didn’t know you were going to be here!” a genuinely surprised and appreciative Kearse said to his proud coach as they embraced.
Miller is entering his 30th year at Lakes. He coached Jermaine and his brother Jamaal before they both played for UW. Miller has watched Jermaine go from undrafted into the NFL just trying to make the Seahawks as a rookie on special teams in 2012 to Seattle’s clutch postseason receiver the last three years.
Kearse just finished his contract that paid him $2,356,000 in 2015 as a restricted free agent. It was the first season of his four-year career he wasn’t tied as the lowest-paid player in the league. He is poised to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9. With his annual playoff heroics plus the facts he’s gone from three to 22 to 38 to 49 catches in each of his NFL regular seasons and is turned just 26 on Feb. 6, Kearse stands to command perhaps $3-4 million per year on the free-agent market.
Kearse deserves to shop after three seasons at the league-minimum salary. This first splash into free agency is THE reason kids from age 8 through college lift all those weights, run all those sprints and routes, play through all the injuries and pain and sacrifice so much of their formative lives to the game: to get that first free-agent money and guaranteed signing bonus in the NFL.
Is that shopping going to be too expensive for Kearse to remain with his hometown team?
Doug Baldwin, Seattle’s No. 1 receiver, is due to make $4 million this coming year and just set the franchise record with a league co-leading 13 touchdown receptions this past season. Baldwin’s contract is due to end after the 2016 season, so if the Seahawks give Kearse a raise now what more are they going to need to do for Baldwin in the next 12 1/2 months?
“I don’t know,” Kearse said Tuesday when asked what may to happen with him in a few weeks. “I’m not sure.”
Miller says all of Lakewood is “on pins and needles” waiting to find out if Kearse stays a Seahawk or signs elsewhere in this upcoming free-agent period.
To be sure, Kearse doesn’t want to leave the only home he’s ever known. He made clear in the minutes following his career day in Seattle’s season-ending playoff loss at Carolina last month that of course he wants to come back to the Seahawks.
“I mean, I grew up in the state of Washington,” the son of a former Army sergeant on Fort Lewis said Jan. 17 in Charlotte, North Carolina, after he had a career-high 11 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle’s 31-24 loss to the eventual NFC-champion Panthers.
Tuesday in Lakewood, Kearse was politely and understandably reluctant to talk football economics at an event highlighting his charity and kids from neighboring Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Kearse did say he hadn’t personally talked to anyone on the Seahawks about his situation since the season ended. But he confirmed that his agent has spoken and is speaking with the team.
A quick question-and-answer session with the Clover Park college student leaders followed Tuesday’s casual game of ping-pong, a favorite game inside the Seahawks’ locker room (at which Kearse rates behind unofficial team champion and kicker Steven Hauschka). A Clover Park student asked Kearse what he felt his future was with the Seahawks.
“I’m all about the foundation today,” Kearse responded. “But I would like to ... God willing. We’ll see.”
Kearse was down I-5 in Olympia on Monday -- Presidents’ Day -- receiving Resolution No. 2016-4661 from the state House of Representatives. Kearse brought with him to the State Capitol 20 Gold Star military family members, the survivors of fallen American servicemen and women. Six Gold Star kids from the JBLM community were Kearse’s guests at the Seahawks’ home regular-season finale against St. Louis in December. Last year Kearse and his foundation sent two Gold Star kids to Washington, D.C., on an all-expenses-paid tour of our nation’s capital as part of a program for emerging leaders.
This year Kearse is sending two more children of deceased service members on trips to either Nicaragua (where Kearse went last July), Thailand or Zimbabwe.
Not too shabby for a guy who’s made the minimum salary in his industry for three of the last four years.
The House’s resolution Monday read in part: “WHEREAS, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver and Pacific Northwest native Jermaine Kearse created the 15 to 1: Jermaine Kearse Foundation in 2015 to support and inspire youth in military familes...
“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives recognize the 15 to 1: Jermaine Kearse Foundation, thanks to whom the state of Washington is able to honor the service of military children...”
Kearse on Tuesday proudly showed off to the Clover Park students the official resolution, which was inside an Evergreen-colored folder with a gold seal.
When I tweeted that picture of the resolution for Kearse, the office of Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman responded on Twitter:
Starting March 9 he -- and we -- will find out if will he remain a pretty darn good Seahawk.