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Thursday, October 9, 2003
Kearse back on track after injuries in '02

By Len Pasquarelli

While a resolution is hardly imminent, has confirmed that the Tennessee Titans and the agent for defensive end Jevon Kearse will resume discussions on Friday, in the continuing quest to hammer out a contract extension for the star pass-rusher.

 Jevon Kearse

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, buoyed by the quick start Kearse has had in 2003 following an '02 campaign in which he was limited to just four appearances and one start, will speak again with general manager Floyd Reese. The two men have been speaking on and off about an extension for months, but the Titans opted in the offseason to exercise prudence and to see how Kearse recovered from an injury to his left foot.

The perception after five games: That Kearse, who established the rookie sack record in 1999 and has played in three Pro Bowl games in four seasons, is close to being back to the fearsome pass rusher he was before the injury.

Kearse, 27, has 4½ sacks, including two against the New England Patriots last week. That number not only represents the fastest start in Kearse's career but also more than doubles equals his sack total for the entire 2002 season. In addition, the former University of Florida star has 26 tackles and six quarterback pressures.

Nicknamed "The Freak," because of his rare combination of size and athletic ability, Kearse is on his way again to living up to that handle.

"I don't think all the rust is off yet," said Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn. "He is only going to get better as the season goes on."

A first-round pick in the '99 draft, Kearse is in the final season of his contract, with a base salary of $4 million and a salary cap charge of $4.873 million. Without a contract extension, he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring, although the club could limit his mobility by designating him a "franchise" free agent.

But the cap space eaten up by the "franchise" label, $7.169 million this year and possibly higher next spring, is exorbitant. And the Titans, who always seem to be squeezed by the cap, appear to have little wiggle room again for 2004.

If the two sides could consummate a deal during this season, it would reduce Kearse's current cap charge, and, more important, secure his services for the long term.

In four-plus seasons, Kearse now has 42½ sacks. He is well on his way to double-digit quarterback takedowns for the fourth time in his career. Kearse averaged a dozen sacks over his first three seasons, then was limited to two sacks in 2002, when he was able to start just one game.

On the second play of the '02 season opener, Kearse fractured the fifth metatarsal of his left foot and subsequently underwent two surgeries to repair the injury.