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Seahawks 30 under 30: Jermaine Kearse is 26 and primed for another breakout

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NFL: NFC Divisional-Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have a very good roster, but what's especially nice and hopeful about their team is that the vast majority of current Seahawks are young and signed through 2017, at least. This series leading up to the regular season opener on September 11 will take a closer look at 30 such players, all of whom won't be turning 30 this year. See every 30-under-30 posted so far here.

Player: Jermaine Kearse

Age: 26

How acquired: UDFA in 2012

Free agent: 2019

I’d been saying for a while that Kearse was not an especially special wide receiver and that at some point the team (more importantly, the fans) would have to let go of their obsession with the former University of Washington player. I wasn’t a fan of giving him the tender last year that paid him almost $2.4 million and certainly could never have imagined him re-upping on a three-year deal after the season, but that’s just what happened.

Kearse signed a three-year, $13.5 million deal in March that gives him a slight raise for this season and then pays him over $4 million in 2017. (The 2018 year of the deal pays him almost $7 million, but if he underperforms to any level, the Seahawks can release him and save $5 million.) And you know what?

He proved me wrong and earned it.

In fact, the biggest surprise to me was that no team beat that offer by a significant margin. Kearse improved his catch rate to 72.1% in 2015, up from 55.1% the year prior, he’s well-noted for his blocking ability, and he’s averaged over 14 yards per catch in his career pretty consistently. He was also fifth in DVOA last season as he, Doug Baldwin, and Tyler Lockett all skyrocketed to new levels (for Lockett, it was a new level in the second half of his rookie season compared to the first half) as Russell Wilson elevated his game from “great” to “anyone who ranks him as the 13th-best QB in the NFL after this is a complete idiot.”

And a big part of Russell’s career has been Kearse, since the two came up together as 2012 rookies and have connected on some of the biggest plays in franchise history; In four seasons, Kearse has gone from an undrafted free agent who caught three passes as a rookie to having caught the key touchdown against the 49ers in the 2013 playoffs, a touchdown in Super Bowl 48, the game-winning touchdown against the Packers in OT of the NFC Championship game the following year, and then had what could have gone down as one of the best catches in Super Bowl history against the Patriots, if only Seattle had been able to follow through for a touchdown to win the game. In the playoff loss to the Panthers last season, Kearse had a career-high 11 catches, and tied his career highs with 110 yards and two touchdowns.

So can we expect him to build off of that game now that he has a $7 million salary to fight for over the next two seasons? Quite possibly.

I think Kearse got lucky to sign for his $2.4 million salary last season — or perhaps Pete Carroll knew he’d develop into a key figure all along — but he absolutely has earned a shot to keep getting paid after catching almost three-quarters of all passes thrown his way in 2015 and then turning those 49 receptions into 32 first downs, five touchdowns, and playing consistently whether at home or on the road.

I still think Baldwin, Lockett, and Richardson are better, but if Jermaine Kearse is your fourth best receiver that’s the best bargain in the business. Suddenly no team has better depth at wide receiver in the NFL than the Seahawks do and the other 31 teams may regret not giving Kearse more than $13 million.

Here’s a fan tribute video to the hometown receiver: