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Most Intriguing Seahawks: No. 20, WR Jermaine Kearse

Jermaine Kearse's production dropped in 2016 despite a career high in targets. (AP)
LISTEN: Most Intriguing Seahawks, No. 20: WR Jermaine Kearse

During each show until the start of training camp, “Brock and Salk” is counting down the 20 most intriguing players on the Seahawks’ roster. The countdown began with wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. The segment on Kearse is embedded above. My thoughts are below.

The intrigue

Kearse is coming off what was statistically the worst of his three seasons as a starter. Following a career year in 2015, his production dipped across the board in 2016, with his receptions, yards and touchdowns all dropping despite Kearse setting a career high in targets by a wide margin. That led to Kearse losing his job as Seattle’s No. 2 receiver late in the season, which turned out to be a short-lived demotion once Tyler Lockett went down with a broken leg. The contract Kearse signed last year was structured in such a way that the Seahawks had relatively little financial incentive to move on from him this offseason. The salary-cap savings would be much greater next year, which means that, in all likelihood, the Lakewood native and University of Washington product needs a bounce-back season in order to stick around beyond 2017.

By the numbers

$367,000. That’s all the Seahawks would have saved against the 2017 salary cap by releasing Kearse earlier this offseason (unless they deferred half of the dead money on his contract to next offseason). That’s one reason why he remains with the Seahawks despite a down season in which he briefly lost his starting job. The Seahawks could save $5 million against the 2018 cap by releasing Kearse next offseason, before he enters the final year of his three-year, $13.5 million deal. More on the financial particulars of Kearse’s situation in this post.

5. Times Kearse was flagged for offensive pass interference in 2017, most in the league (that total doesn’t include one OPI penalty against him that was declined). Excluding Seattle, only two teams had more OPI penalties last year than Kearse had individually. In Kearse’s defense, he said the NFL admitted after the fact that most of the plays in question didn’t warrant flags for OPI.

6. Postseason touchdown receptions for Kearse, a franchise record he shares with Doug Baldwin. That total includes the go-ahead and winning scores in the NFC title games against San Francisco and Green Bay, respectively. It does not include the circus catch he made to get the Seahawks to the 5-yard line on their final drive of Super Bowl XLIX. Kearse’s history of making big plays in big moments seems to carry a lot of weight with the organization and his quarterback. “He’s clutch,” Russell Wilson said after Kearse scored twice in Seattle’s playoff loss to Carolina two seasons ago, “as clutch as it gets.”

Notable

A quarterback’s trust is as important as anything for a receiver. Kearse has had that from Wilson since they entered the league together in 2012. The fact that Kearse was targeted 90 times last season – a career high and up from 68 in 2015 – suggest that Wilson didn’t lose much faith in him despite his diminished production.

Quotable

“I learned to be mentally tough this season. I wouldn’t say this was my best season, or I wouldn’t say it’s my worst. You would think statistically it was a bad season, but I felt throughout the season there were some things that I did really well to help contribute to what we as an offense were trying to do, whether that was catching footballs, blocking or something different. I think for me going into the offseason, I’m always trying to have the best offseason that I can possibly have. I’m always trying to come back the next year and have my best season. I don’t sit back and think, ‘Oh, I had a bad season, so I need to build on that.’ If I have a good season or bad season, I’m still trying to come back the next season and do it better than I do before. That’s the mindset I have. I can’t dwell on last year right now. My focus right now is to have the best possible season this year and that starts right now in the offseason.” – Kearse to Gee Scott in February