Cowboys Decision Firm on Bringing Back Starter With Ties to Mike Zimmer

Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse

Getty Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse

There are a few things that Jayron Kearse had going for him heading into 2024 free agency that might have nudged the Cowboys into re-upping with him. For one thing, he was consistently available, playing 46 of 51 games in the last three seasons, including 42 starts. For another thing, he began his career as an undrafted free agent signed by Mike Zimmer’s Vikings, and Zimmer is now the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.

He was also flexible, and, despite being a safety and defensive back his whole career, filled in at linebacker when the Cowboys needed it.

But there were a few things working against Kearse, too. For starters, there is the general exorcism of free agents from the Cowboys roster that took place this offseason. Eight Cowboys free agents have signed elsewhere, and more are likely to come. For another thing, there is the general devaluing of safeties that has gone on across the NFL.

The Dallas Morning News noted on Friday that Kearse is all but done with the Cowboys after three seasons.

“Jayron Kearse, the safety-turned-weakside linebacker who covered wide receivers and provided an emotional lift, remains unsigned in the free agent market with little chance of returning,” beat writer Calvin Watkins wrote.

Jayron Kearse Spent 3 Seasons in Dallas

Kearse originally signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Cowboys in 2021, and followed that up with a one-year deal last year. He became more of a linebacker-safety hybrid, a role that has grown increasingly popular across the NFL, under former Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and was forced to play more on the second level in 2023 with the injury to Leighton Vander Esch.

Before the season, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said, “JK is so versatile. I go back to when he was in Minnesota and I was across the way [in Green Bay]. He was so impactful on special teams and with his opportunities.

“He’s come in here and kind of created that role as far as versatility. You always talk about matchups, it’s usually how the offense will create matchups for themselves, but we feel that JK’s versatility creates matchups for us to take pieces away.”

Cowboys Will Have More Linebackers Playing Linebacker

The numbers were not great, though. Kearse, who is 30 now, did not play particularly well—in part because he was being asked to play out of position, but probably in part because his best football days are behind him. In 860 snaps, Pro Football Focus graded him at a 44.9, which was 94th out of 95 safeties in the league.

Ironically, the hiring of Zimmer, despite his past ties with Kearse, probably doomed his potential return to Dallas. Zimmer’s defenses don’t call for undersize linebacker—he wants beef. Hybrids are out, and Zimmer wants his linebackers to be linebackers.

As it stands, the Cowboys have rebuilt their linebacking corps alongside returning starter Damone Clark. The team landed Eric Kendricks in free agency to start at middle linebacker, and drafted Marist Liufau in the third round.

They’re also hopeful they’ll get an impact from 2023 third-rounder DeMarvion Overshown, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

“I’m on track,” Overshown said at OTAs this week. “I’m definitely ahead of schedule and I feel like I’ve been saying that since I got the surgery. I’ve been ready to come back so fast.”

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