"Yes. It got very close. They still wanted me to get on the plane and go there today," Kearse said Thursday after signing a two-year, $6 million contract that included a $1.3 million signing bonus, according to ProFootballTalk.com. "Why, when I'm at home here? I feel at home right here."
The Vikings had arranged for a Thursday visit with Kearse if he would have left Tennessee without a contract. The pass-rushing defensive end indicated that he had to remind his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, that he was excited about returning to the Tennessee, where he began his career and amassed 36 sacks in his first three seasons in the league after being a 1999 first-round draft choice.
However, his production has dipped since then. Injuries and a change in scheme led him having only 33½ sacks in the last six years with the Titans and Philadelphia Eagles.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher made sure Tennessee reporters knew that he believes Kearse can still be a productive defensive end and indicated that Kearse is healthy once again.
"This is just not a nostalgic thing to bring back the old days. He's here to fill a spot and to help us win football games and knock the passer down," Fisher said. "We were very excited at the results of the physical and very excited to get things put together as quickly as we did."
Kearse said he pushed himself to come back too quickly from a knee injury in Philadelphia.
"I want to be on the field helping the team win," he said. "I didn't listen to my knee. I kind of ignored listening to my knee. It was telling me to back off or to chill out for a minute. I was pushing through everything. I didn't miss any practices, as far as training camp, because I wanted to push myself through that and get back into football shape, but by doing that I kind of set myself back because of my knee and the way it was reacting from all the pounding because I was out for a year and just a couple of months off of surgery."
Kearse also said he wasn't a good fit for what the Eagles wanted him to do.
"The scheme was not for me, just sitting wide-footed in the two-gap stance in front of the tight end doing a lot of reading, when I started off just moving, getting off the ball, going to the ball, being aggressive, going to the ball, not reading and then reacting. I'm used to just doing what I do," he said.
Fisher said Kearse won't be limited in the number of plays he is used.
"He's going to play as much and as often as he possibly can. If it's 60 plays a game, that's great," Fisher said. "We still have an interest in signing additional players at the position, obviously, because there's going to be some rotation there. So it's as many plays and as often as he can possibly play."
"It's good to be back here – I always knew it was a possibility," Kearse said.
Kearse is at least the fourth defensive end the Vikings have shown an interest in since the free-agent signing period opened last Thursday night, and the third one they had scheduled to visit that signed with another team before making the trip to Minnesota.
With Kenechi Udeze's diagnosis of leukemia and Erasmus James' injury history, the search for help at the position continues, but the market of quality available defensive ends has shrunk quickly. The Vikings' best option may be to re-sign base end Darrion Scott or look to the trade market and then supplement with a high draft choice.