Receiver Jermaine Kearse is returning to the Seahawks. The former UW and Lakes High star was an unrestricted free agent but has reached an agreement to return to the team.
The Seahawks have kept another key free agent home, agreeing to a deal Thursday with receiver Jermaine Kearse, the team announced Thursday night. It’s being reported as a three-year deal worth $13.5 million with a reported $6.3 million guaranteed, all of that coming in the first year.
Kearse, who turned 26 last month, emerged from originally joining the Seahawks in 2012 as an undrafted free agent to become one of the most valuable players on the team in recent seasons, including making winning touchdown receptions in the 2014 and 2015 NFC championship games.
Kearse, who grew up in Lakewood and attended Lakes High, had his best season in 2015 when he set career highs with 49 receptions and 685 yards along with five touchdowns.
An ESPN report shortly before the free agent signing period indicated Kearse had decided to move on. But after exploring the free agent market, Kearse and the Seahawks were to reach a deal keeping him with the team.
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That means the Seahawks will have the bulk of their 2015 receiving corps — which helped Russell Wilson throw for a team record 34 touchdowns — intact in 2016.
The team’s top four receivers — Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Kearse and Jimmy Graham — all are under contract as is tight end Luke Willson. And the Seahawks are also expecting to get back Paul Richardson, their top choice in the 2014 draft who played just one game due to injury. Kearse’s return also means the Seahawks will again have three UW grads on the roster, joining Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams, each also under contract through 2016.
Kearse’s $4.5 million per year salary essentially doubles the $2.3 he made in 2015 and also makes him the highest-paid receiver on the team, with Doug Baldwin averaging $4.3 million. Baldwin is entering the last year of his contract in 2016 and it’s thought the team could explore an extension with him later this year.Seattle has often extended contracts of players entering their final season (a few hours after Kearse re-signed, Baldwin’s agent intriguingly tweeted a stat that seemed to carry a little message as well.).
After the season, Kearse had said he hoped to stay in his hometown — he got married last summer and his wife is also from the Seattle area —- but would have to explore his options.
“I grew up in the state of Washington,’’ he said following the season-ending playoff loss to Carolina. “I would love to be here. But there are going to have to be some decisions that have to be made, and we’re just going to have to see when that time comes.”
Kearse played at UW from 2008-11, finishing his career as the second-leading receiver in school history with 180 receptions for 2,871 yards.
After going undrafted, he signed with the Seahawks in 2012, and through the years has developed an especially tight connection with Wilson — according to Pro Football Focus, Wilson had a 126.1 passer rating last season when throwing to Kearse, the fourth-best in the NFL.
Shortly after news of Kearse’s signing broke, Wilson tweeted: “Mr. Clutch is back!!! Love it!’’
Kearse has earned that nickname for a variety of game-winning catches through the years, including in the 2014 and 2015 NFC championship games, the latter in overtime. His six career touchdown catches in the post-season is a team record. Kearse is also valued due to his durability – he has missed just two games due to injury in his career and last year played almost 72 percent of the offensive snaps — and his blocking, an underrated role for receivers in Seattle’s run-heavy offense.
As the second day of free agency ended, though, Seattle’s only signees were three players of its own — defensive tackle Athyba Rubin before the signing period officially began, cornerback Jeremy Lane on Wednesday and Kearse.
Seattle has lost three players in free agency — Sweezy, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (Chargers) and linebacker Bruce Irvin (Raiders).
The departures of Mebane and Irvin had Seattle continuing to look at relatively cheap veterans to bolster the defensive line including a pair of former Seahawks.
The Seahawks are expected to get a visit from defensive end Chris Clemons, who played for Seattle from 2010-13 and has spent the last two years with Jacksonville. He could sign to serve as a situational pass rusher. There was also a report that the Seahawks could be interested in bringing back linebacker/rush end O’Brien Schofield, who played with Seattle in 2013-14 before spending last year in Atlanta. There was also a report that the Seahawks may get a visit from defensive tackle Cam Thomas of the Steelers.
Along with Larsen, the Seahawks were also said to be interested in Arizona offensive lineman Bradley Sowell, a reserve the last two years after starting most of 2013 at left tackle. If Okung leaves, the Seahawks could also look at a replacement such as Donald Penn of Oakland, who remains unsigned.
Kearse tweeted a little message to Seahawks fans later in the night: