Last year, the Dallas Cowboys took a shot in the dark on edge rusher Aldon Smith, who returned from a five-year NFL ban and, in completing a successful comeback, inspired those who cut his checks.
This year, the team is targeting a similarly talented defender with an equally checkered (recent) past — and a flier is “likely” to follow.
According to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys are hosting former Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions safety Jayron Kearse on a free-agent visit Wednesday.
Kearse, 27, will join a three-player tryout group featuring fellow safeties Malik Hooker and Damontae Kazee, whose visits were previously scheduled. Contract offers are expected.
“Medical physicals will be paramount Wednesday as Cowboys evaluate three safeties in town. If the team signs two of them, the combination would seem likely to involve Jayron Kearse,” Gehlken reported.
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Background on Kearse
The nephew of former NFL great Jevon Kearse, Jayron entered the league in 2016, drafted in the seventh round (No. 244 overall) by the Vikings. The Clemson product, incensed over his draft-day tumble, wasted little time introducing himself.
“I threw the caps on the ground after I was drafted,” he said upon Minnesota’s pick. “The Vikings gave me a shot. Thirty-one passed on me, so 31 got thrown on the ground. The Vikings are the lucky ones. I’m definitely going to make the other 31 pay.”
Kearse (6-4, 215) would appear in 47 games for the Vikings, starting two, across the 2016-18 campaigns. He tallied 51 tackles, two pass breakups, and a half-sack while primarily contributing on special teams.
Kearse signed a one-year deal with Detroit in March 2020. In July, he was suspended three games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He made 11 appearances and seven starts for the Lions last season, posting 59 tackles, two PBUs, and one forced fumble before being waived on Dec. 28.
He finished 2020 as part of the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad. His contract expired on Jan. 25, sending him to the open market where he’s drawn little known interest.
Kearse was a three-year collegian; a first-team All-ACC choice in 2014 and 2015 and first-team All-American selection in 2015. He recorded 164 career tackles (116 solo, 11.5 for loss), 11 PBUs, seven interceptions, and three sacks with the Tigers. “At times he looked like a Round 1 talent,” reads his Bleacher Report scouting profile.
He’s an ideal single-high safety given his size and range in the middle of the field. His play speed is better than his track speed, and Kearse has shown he can track and cover the ball in quarters or half coverage.
An instinctive player, he has the skills to make the calls for a secondary. Kearse needs to be coached up in his effort and angles but has the tools to be a better pro than college player.
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Potential Fit in Dallas
The Cowboys, in case you missed it, are remodeling their defense under new coordinator Dan Quinn. Amid the initial wave of free agency, the club brought in several defenders, including linebacker/safety Keanu Neal, outside linebacker Tarell Basham, and linemen Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban.
Neal reportedly was signed to play weakside LB, spelling incumbent starter Jaylon Smith. If added, Kearse — and possibly either Hooker or Kazee — would function in a more traditional safety role, pairing with Donovan Wilson, as well as moonlight on special teams.
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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL