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Examining the Seahawks’ options with Jermaine Kearse

Jermaine Kearse is scheduled to count just over $4 million against Seattle's 2017 salary cap. (AP)

The Seahawks enter the offseason with only two starters and few other key players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, not nearly as many as there were a year ago. In that regard, the potential for significant personnel moves is with some notable Seahawks who are still under contract more so than with those whose deals are expiring.

Tight end Jimmy Graham and strong safety Kam Chancellor are two such players. John Clayton’s most recent columns have delved into their respective situations. He thinks the Seahawks would be foolish to part ways with Graham and his $10 million cap charge for 2017 and that Seattle may want to let Chancellor play out the final year of his deal at $8.125 million instead of giving him an extension.

Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is another player that fits into that category, albeit at a lower pay grade.

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He’s one year into a three-year, $13.5 million contract and is scheduled to count $4.033 million against Seattle’s salary cap next season. That’s by no means an exorbitant amount for a No. 2 receiver. In fact, that 2017 cap charge ranks 37th among NFL wide receivers, according to contract data from the website Spotrac.com.

Then again, Kearse’s down season in 2016 raises the question of whether or not he is/will be a No. 2 receiver for the Seahawks going forward. His production dipped across the board from his career year in 2015, with his receptions dropping from 49 to 41, his yards from 685 to 511 and his touchdowns from five to one. And his targets went up considerably, from 68 to 90, which means Kearse, for whatever reason, produced less last season despite more opportunities. He was also flagged six times for offensive pass interference.

That led to Kearse being supplanted in the starting lineup late in the year before reclaiming the No. 2 spot when Tyler Lockett broke his leg.

And so a common assumption has been that the Seahawks will move on from Kearse this offseason, but it’s not that simple. The financial benefit may not be great enough to warrant it.

The Seahawks could save at most $2.2 million against the 2017 cap by releasing him. They would have to do so either after June 1 or with what’s called a post-June 1 designation, which would defer to next offseason half of the $3.67 million in dead money from his signing bonus. Otherwise, the entire balance of that remaining bonus proration would count against the 2017 cap if the Seahawks were to release him, and they’d only save $367,000.

So one possibility is that the Seahawks wait to make a decision. They could evaluate their receiver corps after free agency and the draft, let Kearse compete for a spot in training camp and take the $2.2 million in savings if they decide to cut him.

Or they could keep him. That may actually make the most sense.

For one thing, his $4.033 million cap charge, while high for a sub-No. 2 receiver, isn’t prohibitive. Nor is the $2.2 million that Seattle could save by releasing him all that substantial for a team whose salary cap is in relatively good shape.

The other part of the equation is Seattle’s receiver corps, which, as it stands now, could at the very least still use Kearse and may end up needing him. Lockett will be coming off a broken leg, and while coach Pete Carroll has said he should be ready by the start of next season, there are never any guarantees with injuries that serious. As great as Paul Richardson looked late in the season, he’s had trouble staying healthy. Tanner McEvoy showed potential while playing sparingly as a rookie, but he and the other options behind Doug Baldwin – Kasen Williams and Kenny Lawler, to name two – are young and unproven.

Seems like the Seahawks could have some use for Kearse, even if it’s no longer in a starting role. He still has the trust of quarterback Russell Wilson, he’s a willing and able blocker, he can play special teams and, for what it’s worth, he’s made some of the biggest catches in franchise history.

I could see it going either way, but my guess is that Seattle gives Kearse another shot and hopes for a bounce-back season. It could make the most sense given the financial particulars and the state of Seattle’s receiver corps.