Jayron Kearse has only started 12 games in his five NFL seasons. Now a member of the Cowboys, should the journeyman safety hope for a larger role after signing as a free agent in 2021?
As just a 7th-Round pick by the Vikings in 2016, Kearse should feel good to still be collecting NFL paychecks for a sixth season. While unique size (6'4″, 215 lbs) and some shared DNA with some great NFL players helped him get into the league, he's stuck around this long thanks to special teams work and being seen as at least a capable backup on defense.
Jayron is the nephew of sack artist Jevon “The Freak” Kearse and cousin of former CB Phillip Buchanon.
With only five starts in his four seasons with Minnesota, Kearse signed a one-year deal with Detroit in 2020 and saw much more playing time. He started seven of 11 games after serving a substance-abuse suspension for the first three weeks.
Kearse didn't do much to help the Lions, registering one forced fumble and two pass defelctions on the NFL's 3rd-worst pass defense in 2020. It's no surprise that Jayron didn't get much interest in this year's free agency market, signing with Dallas for a minimal one-year deal during the second wave.
Joining the Cowboys likely appeared to be a good opportunity for Kearse at that moment. With only Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson as experienced safeties under contract, Jayron may have seen a chance to compete for a starting role.
But within a few days of signing Kearse the Cowboys also added longtime starter, and a Dan Quinn product, in Atlanta's Damontae Kazee. While they got nearly identical contracts at $1.13 million for 2021, Kazee got a little more guaranteed money and has a huge edge in experience and his connection to Quinn.
Thankfully for both, Dallas didn't address safety in the NFL Draft until drafting Israel Mukuamu in the 6th Round. The South Carolina product will be moving full-time to safety with the Cowboys after playing a hybrid DB role in college.
Additionally, it appears that second-year prospect Reggie Robinson will be going to cornerback after spending 2020 at safety. The former 4th-Round pick could return depending on how camp and preseason go, but at least for now he won't be taking up practice reps at safety.
For Jayron Kearse, being able to make the 53-man roster as a special teamer and experienced backup is a strong possibility. Special teams is often key to making the bottom of the roster and that's how Kearse has survived in the NFL to this point. He was a core player for the Vikings' speciat teams units from 2016-2019.
With Kazee and Donovan Wilson projected to be the starters as of now, Kearse would have to pull off an upset to claim one of those jobs. He could very well be the next man up should something negative happens with Kazee or Wilson, but for now he and Darian Thompson are the experienced backups.
Surprises certainly can happen. Who would've thought that Thompson would end up starting in Week One last year after Dallas signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix? The latter didn't even make the roster in 2020 after being one of the bigger names signed in free agency.
It doesn't hurt Kearse, and could be why Dallas signed him to begin with, that his unique size is a favorite trait for Dan Quinn. Going back to his days with Seattle, Quinn has often wanted and worked with defensive backs who play with size and strength.
But at 27 years old and with five NFL seasons of evidence, Jayron Kearse doesn't feel like a guy who will be pushing for a starting job. He's here to fill valuable role on special teams and bring experience to the safety depth chart, but hopefully won't be called on too much in that capacity.
Like many heading into training camp on July 21st, Kearse can certainly hope for more. But based on what we know today, seeing Jayron as a starter in 2021 would be a big surprise.