Of all the Titans whose contracts are expiring, Jevon Kearse is the one most certain not to return for another season in two-tone blue. He’s just finished the worst season of his 11-year NFL career, has to recuperate from knee surgery and will be 34 years old when the season starts in September.
It could very well be his final year in the league as well but don’t feel sorry for The Freak. He’s had a spectacular (at least his first three seasons) and lucrative career. It looked like the sky was the limit when Kearse entered the league. 14½ sacks tends to get you noticed and they earned him All-Pro, Pro Bowl and DROY honors.
The Freak followed up his sensational rookie campaign with Pro Bowl selections in his next two seasons but would never be the same again. Kearse broke his foot in the 2002 season opener, a.k.a. the Carlos Hall game, and it was all downhill from there. He would have three more decent years, one in Tennessee and two in Philadelphia, followed by four uninspiring seasons, but bore less and less resemblance to The Freak we knew from 1999-2001.
Prior to his 2008 return to Tennessee, some doubters thought he had little left in the tank but he proved their judgments to be premature by a year. Jevon registered 34 tackles, 3½ sacks and three forced fumbles as he started all 16 games.
His 2009 season was one I’m sure he’d like to forget. Kearse had only one sack and that was a gift, as Steelers tackle Willie Colon gave him a free rush on Big Ben in the season opener. Kearse also had the dubious distinction of tying Rob Bironas and Kerry Collins with one solo tackle for the season.
Regarding his knee injury, it was seemingly unrelated to his poor play in ’09. Kearse was a healthy scratch when he was benched in Week Five. He was listed on the Week Six injury report with a foot injury, and with a knee injury in Weeks Nine and Ten (he participated fully in practice in Week Ten) but still didn’t appear in a game until Weeks Twelve and Thirteen. He finished the season by participating fully in practice in Week Seventeen, when he was once again a healthy scratch.
It was a sad way to see what by all rights ought to be the end of the road for Kearse, but I’ll choose to remember him most for what he was in his first three seasons — an edge rusher who changed the game. Thanks for the memories, Jevon, and best wishes.