Kearse's record deal includes $16M bonus

Originally Published: March 3, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The biggest name in unrestricted free agency has flown (to) the coop, with free agent defensive end Jevon Kearse reaching a contract agreement with the Eagles.

In a deal that makes Kearse the highest-paid defensive lineman in NFL history, he will sign an eight-year contract worth $66 million. The pass-rush terror nicknamed "The Freak" will receive a signing bonus of $16 million. There are additional roster bonuses of $2 million each in the first two seasons, essentially guaranteeing $20 million of the deal.

Kearse, 27, will earn $24 million in the first three years of the contract.

"I want to get a [Super Bowl] ring for these fingers," Kearse was quoted as saying on the team's Web site. "I think the Eagles are maybe one player away, one defensive lineman away."

Flush with more than $25 million in available cap room, Philadelphia nonetheless flew below the radar in its pursuit of Kearse, who the team clearly feels has recovered from a series of injuries that limited him to 18 games over the past two seasons. Despite their need for an outside rusher of Kearse's ilk, the Eagles were never prominently mentioned as a viable suitor for the services of the standout defensive end.

But the Eagles, and in particular team president Joe Banner, arguably the premier salary cap manager in the NFL, quickly made contact with agent Drew Rosenhaus shortly after the midnight start to the signing period. It is believed the two sides negotiated through much of the night and well into Wednesday before striking a deal. The deal is a bit uncharacteristic for the Eagles, who normally don't come out of the blocks so quickly in free agency, and who are not prone to adding such high-profile players to the mix.

Other teams believed to have been involved in the Kearse Sweepstakes were Chicago and Seattle. The Washington Redskins were mentioned around the league as the team that was most likely to land Kearse but, for one of the few times in his stewardship of that franchise, it appears owner Dan Snyder finally met a price tag on which he gagged.

Several league sources told ESPN.com a few hours before Kearse's agreement with the Eagles that the Redskins had ceased their pursuit.

The agreement marks the second blockbuster negotiated by Rosenhaus and brother Jason Rosenhaus this week. On Monday, tailback Clinton Portis, who is being traded from the Broncos to the Redskins, agreed to an eight-year, $50.5 million contract that made him the richest running back in league history.

There is also some irony involved here since Rosenhaus represents Hugh Douglas, the veteran defensive end who exited the Eagles last spring in free agency, signing instead with the Jaguars. While Douglas struggled for the first half of last season, most observers still believe his departure had a negative effect, both on the field and in the locker room, on the Eagles.

The Eagles have lost the NFC championship game three consecutive years and seem more intent than ever in reaching the Super Bowl. The addition of Kearse will immediately upgrade the front four, provide a big-time pass-rush threat to a unit that collected 38 sacks in 2003 but didn't have an individual player with more than 7 sacks, and give innovative coordinator Jim Johnson another weapon for his arsenal.

League sources contended Wednesday afternoon that the Eagles might also explore the possibility of trading for San Francisco wide receiver Terrell Owens.

In five seasons with the Titans, Kearse had 192 tackles and 47 sacks, with 19 forced fumbles and 19 pass deflections. The former University of Florida star, a first-round pick in 1999, averaged a dozen sacks in his first three seasons, including a league rookie record 14. But foot injuries in 2002 sidelined him for all but four regular-season games. He missed four games in 2003 with a variety of leg injuries.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.