Last week the Seahawks signed the tiny but mighty wide receiver and third-down maestro Doug Baldwin to a three-year contract extension worth $13M, with additional performance-based incentives.
It’s rare to see any NFL player signed to such a long contract that will pay (relatively) little in overall value: if a team wants to make a long-term commitment to a player, that player is usually a star, who commands a star’s fee. This agreement between the Seahawks and Baldwin speaks volumes about the respect that the two parties have for one another. Baldwin was clearly not interested in testing the free agent market, since that might mean leaving the welcoming confines of Seattle’s locker room. And the Seahawks showed their appreciation for Baldwin’s contributions by compensating him with long-term stability and a good chunk of guaranteed money ($8.5M).
Signing Baldwin is also a brilliant move with regards to Seattle’s holistic cap situation. With so much money committed to Percy Harvin (his contract results in a cap hit of at least $12M every year until 2018) and so much money newly invested in the team’s many defensive stars, it is necessary for the Seahawks to be frugal in assembling the rest of their wide receiver corps.
The front office is aware of this need and has acted accordingly with the rest of the their offseason moves. As Seattle’s leading receiver this season, Golden Tate essentially played himself out of the Seahawks’ price range, as he received a five-year/$31M commitment from the Detroit Lions. The Seahawks released Sidney Rice from his old contract, which owed him $9.7M in 2014, accepting the risk of letting Rice float in free agency for nearly two months, before signing him to a one-year/$1.4M deal in April. By prioritizing wide receiver in the draft, selecting Paul Richardson in the second round and Kevin Norwood in the fourth, the Seahawks have two more wide receivers who are under inexpensive long-term control.
With Harvin, Richardson, Norwood, and now Baldwin firmly in place, it appears that the Seahawks have no room on the depth chart for any additional long-term commitments. But with Rice slated to enter free agency once more in spring of 2015, and with Harvin’s health — gulp — yet unproven, it’s plausible to see this deep position turning into an area of need after a few bad breaks.
Here’s one solution that I think the Seahawks may pursue after the 2014 regular season: sign Jermaine Kearse to a “Baldwin-esque” extension, perhaps for three years and $9M.
As an undrafted rookie in 2012, Kearse was actually released twice from the team before eventually earning promotion to the active roster. Fast-forward less than 18 months and suddenly Kearse is catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
In 2012, Kearse’s rookie year totals of three catches in sevengames were blown away by his 22 catches, 346 yards, and four touchdowns in 2013 — followed up by seven more catches and two more touchdowns in the playoffs.
While Kearse fortuitously earned playing time in part thanks to Rice’s injury, it is to Kearse’s credit that he seized the third-string wide receiver role over available teammates Ricardo Lockette, Bryan Walters, Arceto Clark, or Phil Bates. After his flashes of brilliance in 2013, Kearse will no longer be measured against practice squad hangers-on: he will be compared against the productive members of the league’s deepest pass-catching units.
This post is the first in a four-part series examining Kearse’s value. In Parts Two and Three I will look at Kearse’s greatest strengths and weaknesses as a player, before making a final evaluation in Part Four.
Salary information via Spotrac.com, statistical information via pro-football-reference.com.