Jayron Kearse went into the Cowboys training camp a year ago as a minor figure with low expectations. Now he's standing next to Zack Martin and representing the team in media sessions; a remarkable rise from afterthought to a defensive leader as the safety begins his second season in Dallas.
Upon the team's arrival to Oxnard, CA this past Monday, Kearse joined Martin in addressing the media while the rest of the players were offloading from the buses. Not DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, or Trevon Diggs; the former journeyman safety was there with the Cowboys ‘ best offensive player in a clear sign of his new and surprising status.
In 2021, Kearse signed a minimal deal as Dallas attempted to overhaul the safety position. He wasn't a highly-regarded free agent after his first five seasons, having never emerged from a backup role in four years with Minnesota and then dealing with a substance-abuse suspension in 2020 while with the Lions.
The Cowboys certainly weren't counting on Kearse in 2021. They'd already added Damontae Kazee in the same offseason and later signed Malik Hooker shortly before camp. By the time we got to August, many weren't even projecting Jayron to make Dallas' 53-man roster.
Kearse did make the team but didn't start in Week One. Dallas went with Kazee and returning starter Donovan Wilson. But when Wilson missed Week Two with an injury, Jayron got his first start and never looked back.
Jayron quickly showed he could make a difference in run support and even in pass protection. He had a candidate for one of the best plays of the season with his toe-dragging interception against the Saints.
Midway through the year the veteran also took on the role of being the defense's primary signal-caller. This was a huge help to Micah Parsons, freeing up the rookie to be a playmaker and seemingly unleashing his full potential.
Again, all this came from a guy who many didn't even think would make the team. The former 7th-round pick is now one of the top players on the Cowboys' defense and an unofficial leader; a perfect example of how sometimes the right scheme or circumstances are what have been missing.
Kearse isn't Dallas' best defensive player in 2022. That is Parsons, of course, as arguably one of the top defenders in the entire NFL. You could also make cases for DeMarcus Lawrence or Trevon Diggs as being superior overall to Jayron.
But Kearse provides something these others don't; a role model for many on the roster who didn't enter the NFL with 1st-round or even Day 2 draft pedigree. He's a classic example of how perseverance and blue-collar work early in a career can eventually lead to greater things.
The Cowboys need more guys like Jayron. They need unheralded prospects like Terence Steele and Tyler Biadasz to improve the offensive line. They need free agent afterthoughts like WR James Washington and DE Dante Fowler to make an immediate impact.
Hopefully, Jayron Kearse's example and leadership help the entire team defy expectations in 2022.