The fates of Kearse and Lockett seem intertwined, as does their responsibility in the success of the Seahawks’ passing attack and offense this season.
With the Seahawks set to report for training camp July 29 (practices begin the next day), it’s time to look at the players I feel are most pivotal in 2016.
Call it “16 for ’16,’’ as we count down the 16 most important Seahawks in 2016, unveiling one new player each day from now until the team reports.
Today we reach No. 15, which is our first combo entry — receivers Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett.
It might seem like a cop-out to name two players for one spot. But the fates of Kearse and Lockett seem intertwined, as does their responsibility in the success of the team’s passing attack and offense this season.
Players: Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett.
2016 contract status: Kearse is entering the first of a three-year contract signed in the offseason as a free agent that is worth $13.5 million overall, with $6.3 million guaranteed (which includes his $800,000 base salary for 2016). Lockett is entering the second of his four-year slotted rookie contract and is scheduled to have a base salary of $580,000 in 2016.
Expected role: Kearse and Lockett again will be two of the primary receivers in Seattle’s offense, essentially serving along with Doug Baldwin as starters in the team’s three-receiver sets.
Why they’re ranked here: Kearse and Lockett enter the season in interesting positions.
It’s Kearse’s first season since signing his first significant NFL contract, one that came after Kearse indicated he didn’t expect to return. Instead, his best opportunity was with the Seahawks. But after spending last year trying to prove he deserved to remain here, the storyline shifts. He must to prove he’s worth the deal he received.
Kearse’s contract, for practical purposes, really is a two-year deal (his cap number goes up to $6.8 million in 2018, by which time he will have received all his guaranteed money). That means it won’t be long until Kearse again is in prove-it mode.
Lockett, meanwhile, is coming off a rookie season in which his receiving numbers (51 catches, 664 yards, six TDs) were better than many expected. Combined with the anticipated electric work in the return games (one touchdown return of both a punt and kickoff), he was one of the better overall picks in the 2015 NFL draft.
Throughout the offseason there has been a buzz in Renton that Lockett has made significant strides from last year and could become an even bigger factor in the offense in 2016.
Hearing that, some might assume Lockett will overtake Kearse in the offense.
The reality, though, is that the Seahawks will need both to accomplish their goals in 2016. Baldwin and Kearse were the de facto starting receivers last season, but Lockett wasn’t far off in snaps played — Baldwin played 74 percent, Kearse 71 and Lockett 61.
Lockett might get a few more in 2016. But considering what the Seahawks are paying Kearse and his overall value in the offense (specifically with blocking in the run game), he figures to maintain a healthy presence regardless of how Lockett progresses.
More critical for the Seahawks: They must continue to develop alternate weapons in a passing game that made significant strides at the end of last season. That included a four-game stretch during which Baldwin caught 10 touchdown passes.
Baldwin’s stats and new contract, though, mean he figures to be an increasing target of opposing defenses.
And that in turn circles things back to players such as Kearse and Lockett to prevent defenses from being able to focus too much on Baldwin (and tight end Jimmy Graham when he comes back from a torn patellar tendon).
The success of each, in other words, depends on the success of all.