Jermaine Kearse’s local ties, history of clutch plays with Seahawks will be factors in free agency

Jan 20, 2016, 1:56 PM | Updated: Jan 21, 2016, 9:46 am
Two touchdown catches Sunday gave Jemaine Kearse six career postseason scores, a franchise record. ...
Two touchdown catches Sunday gave Jemaine Kearse six career postseason scores, a franchise record. (AP)
(AP)

With watery eyes and a hushed voice, Jermaine Kearse looked and sounded Sunday like a player dealing with the emotions of not only a season-ending loss but also the uncertainty about his personal future.

Kearse is one of seven Seahawks starters who are set to become unrestricted free agents. Where he ends up will depend on a number of factors, some of which won’t be determined until free agency begins in March. Two things that would work in favor of his return to Seattle, though, are certainly his local ties and possibly his stellar postseason track record, which he added to in Sunday’s divisional-round loss to Carolina.

“In the big-game settings, he just seems to make big plays happen,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday.

Kearse caught a career-high 11 passes and tied career highs with 110 yards and two second-half touchdowns Sunday, helping Seattle rally from a 31-0 deficit. His six career postseason touchdown catches are the most in franchise history.

He also scored the go-ahead and game-winning touchdowns in the last two NFC title games. He hauled in a 63-yard touchdown catch with one hand in last season’s divisional-round win and made a spectacular play in the Super Bowl the year before when he spun away from two defenders and broke four tackles en route to the end zone.

That’s not to mention the postseason big catches that didn’t result in touchdowns, most notably the improbable juggling grab he made while on his back in the fourth quarter of last season’s Super Bowl, a remarkable play that was overshadowed by the goal-line interception that followed. Kearse added another in the fourth quarter on Sunday, snagging a pass just before it hit the turf as he was falling out of bounds. “A phenomenal catch and body control to stay in bounds” was how Carroll described it.

“He can do it all throughout the year,” Carroll said, “but he seems to have a knack for being in the right place to make a special play.”

Might that carry more weight with the Seahawks given what those plays have meant to Seattle?

Kearse, who will turn 26 next month, made $2.356 million last season on a restricted free-agent tender.

His value on the open market this offseason will depend to some degree on how interested teams evaluate his regular-season production, which, on the surface, has been average for a starting receiver. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged roughly 36 catches and 523 yards with a combined 10 touchdowns in that span.

Then again, that has come in a run-first offense that has finished at or near the bottom of the league in pass attempts, which means Kearse and Seattle’s other receivers have had to make the most of limited opportunities. Kearse caught 49 of the 68 passes thrown his way this past season. According to STATS, that catch rate of 72.1 percent was ninth-best among all wide receivers.

“He’s a terrific player. He really is,” Carroll said. “I don’t know if other people appreciate him like we do. We love him in our system and we’d love him to stay with us.”

And Kearse, in his own words, would love to stay put in the area he’s called home his entire life. He grew up on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, attended Lakes High School in Lakewood and played at the University of Washington before signing with Seattle in 2012 as an undrafted free agent.

“It meant a lot to me just to be able to have that type of support system behind me and be able to play in front of my family and my friends,” he said. “I definitely enjoyed it and I would love to play here.”

It’s not that simple, however.

“But unfortunately there’s a business side of this league,” he said. “… So you’ve kind of just got to wait for the whole process to happen and assess the situation.”

710 ESPN Seattle’s Liz Mathews contributed to this story.

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Jermaine Kearse’s local ties, history of clutch plays with Seahawks will be factors in free agency