If you follow the Seattle Seahawks, Jermaine Kearse probably has a soft spot in your heart.
He is responsible for some of the biggest catches in franchise history, including the go-ahead score in the 2013 NFC Championship game over the 49ers, the game-winner in the 2014 NFC Championship over the Packers, and the catch that put the Hawks in position to win Super Bowl XLIX the very next week.
But his objectively bad play last season brings his long-term status with the team into question. Should the Seahawks cut Kearse?
This basically comes down to a cost/benefit analysis, so let's take a look at the factors involved and make a determination. Let your voice be heard in the poll at the bottom of the page, or in the comment section below. [divider]
How has Kearse played?
First let's take a look at his play last season. Pro Football Focus graded Kearse as the No. 111 of 115 NFL wide receivers for his play in 2016, which isn't all that surprising considering he caught just 41 of 89 passes last year for 510 yards and one touchdown. His catch rate of 46.1% was the worst in the league among players with 75+ targets. He also lead the league in offensive pass interference calls with six.
If that weren't enough, Russell Wilson was downright bad when he targeted his fifth-year receiver — four of Wilson's 11 picks last year were on passes to Kearse, as were 10 of his 53 career picks. Those numbers mean Wilson's passes to Kearse have been intercepted twice as often as his passes to other players.
To be fair, there are other factors in play here. Maybe Wilson isn't as good at throwing routes to x-receivers. Wilson's height certainly isn't as big a deal as many thought it would be when he fell to the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but it's still a factor. Maybe the position Kearse plays negatively affects his production.
Ehhhh… not so fast. Casey Castle wrote a great piece for Field Gulls back in December about how the Hawks need to throw to Kearse less. In it, he mapped out red zone numbers for every Seahawks receiver since 2012 — the year Kearse and Wilson joined the team. He found that Kearse has the worst red zone catch rate of any player Wilson has ever played with: just 29.27% in his career.
Additionally, only Sidney Rice has a worse overall catch rate with Wilson than Kearse's 56.5% (among players Wilson has targeted at least 50 times).
Kearse is one of 325 receivers who have been targeted at least 100 times since he came into the league in 2012, and his overall catch rate of 56.5% ranks 257th.
So he has not been great.
Season defining moments? Sure. But career-defining production just hasn't been there. If it were about his play on the field the Hawks should have cut him yesterday, but that's not the only factor here. [divider]
Kearse signed a three-year, $13.5 million deal with the Hawks in spring of 2016, with $6.3 million in guarantees and a $5.5 million signing bonus. Seattle has already paid him all his guaranteed money and nothing more, so they could save the $7.2 million he has left on his contract if they make him a post-June 1 cut.
If they do cut Kearse, the Hawks will have $3.6 million in dead money to spread across the next two seasons (thanks to his prorated signing bonus), but that wouldn't hinder them all that much. Seattle only has $952,496 in dead money this season (according to Over the Cap) and practically zero next season. That $3.6 million would have counted against the cap regardless.
Basically, cut Kearse now and save $2.2 million this year and $5 million next year. Cut him next year and save $5 million.
They would still need to fill his roster spot, but it would most likely be with a young receiver making something like $650,000, which would make their total cash savings something like $1.5 million this year and $4.3 million next year.[divider]
Who would replace him?
Here's a breakdown of the Hawks' non-Kearse wide receivers at the moment:
Comfortably on the Roster
Obviously the No. 1 receiver on the team, Baldwin is one of the top ten pass-catchers in the league.
Lockett proved himself to be one of the best young receivers in the game as stole the No. 2 spot from Kearse last year. But he suffered a brutal broken leg that will keep him off the field for at least the start of training camp.
Richardson showed flashes in his rookie year before an ACL tear knocked him out, but came back with a strong performance last season. He's the No. 3 guy right now.
The Hawks' third round pick out of Michigan. Coaches are excited about the 6-foot-2, 4.45 forty, 3-foot vertical guy. He caught 57 passes for 862 yards and seven scores last season as the Wolverines' No. 1 option.
Played well in limited snaps last season (9 catches on 11 targets for 140 yards and two scores) but will most likely start the season on the PUP list thanks to a toe injury that required surgery.
Fighting for a Spot
Size was an issue for the 2016 seventh-round pick. Coach Carroll said recently that Lawler added 15-17 pounds and came into camp at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds. That's important.
Williams was promoted to the active roster after Lockett's injury last year but didn't see any targets. This is his third season with the team, so he's familiar with how they do things.
The Seahawks released Rodney Smith for Jamel Johnson on Thursday afternoon (per KJR's Curtis Crabtree). Johnson was with the Packers for two years before he was released last August.
One of the more interesting stories in Seahawks camp — Grayson never played college football before he signed with the Hawks. He was a sprinter at LSU who showed up for the Tigers' pro day.
The second-to-last pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Moore is a 6-foot, 219-pound receiver out of East Central — a D2 school in Texas.
The third rookie free agent in camp is Darreus Rogers, an undrafted free agent from USC. He caught 127 passes for 1,487 yards and 11 TDs in his college career, and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod last year.[divider]
So, Should the Seahawks Cut Jermane Kearse?
Right now it doesn't make sense. The $2.2 million they would save isn't worth it. If Lockett were 100% and Richardson showed he could step in as the No. 3 guy in camp, Darboah and McEvoy might be enough to fill out the corps with one of the young guys fighting for a spot.
Don't forget, Jimmy Graham will be the defacto No. 2 receiver on the team regardless of what happens with Kearse.
The Seahawks should (and probably will) wait until after this season to cut Kearse. But please, for the love of Walter Jones, throw it to him a little less.