Terms were not announced, but a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the one-year deal is for $1.35 million, with $350,000 guaranteed, and has a max value of $2.3 million. Kearse made $5 million last season in the final year of his contract with the New York Jets.
Kearse, who turned 29 in February, is coming off the most disappointing of his seven NFL seasons. He finished with only 37 receptions for 371 yards and a touchdown as the Jets struggled for most of the season under rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
"As a player, he can certainly make some pretty ridiculous catches down on the goal line in some pretty big games at the last second, which can give defensive coordinators a lot of problems," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I would say beyond that, just a guy that's very experienced here. ... He's tough. He's smart. He's a hard worker. He's one of those guys who has fought through his entire career to make him who he is. Just another good player to get in here to evaluate and see how he can help us."
The Lions are in need of help at the position, as their top two receivers, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, have not participated fully throughout the spring while working with the rehab group during practice.
Detroit signed Danny Amendola to be the team's new slot receiver, but the depth behind the Lions' top three is unproven, with little-used Andy Jones and Chris Lacy the options for fourth and fifth receiver.
Kearse played 63 percent of the Jets' offensive snaps last season, second among their receivers, but was an afterthought in the passing offense. At the end of the season, Kearse expressed his frustration, saying he "got put on the back burner" by then-offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
Kearse's down year came as a surprise because he set career highs for catches (65) and yards (810) in 2017 under a different coordinator, John Morton. Kearse made a seamless transition to the Jets after arriving in a big trade at the conclusion of the 2017 preseason.
The Jets acquired Kearse and a 2018 second-round pick from the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The Jets later used that pick in a trade that eventually netted the team Darnold.
Overall, Kearse has 255 career receptions for 3,290 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In Seattle, where Bevell was the offensive coordinator, Kearse was best known for his clutch performances in the postseason. In 12 games, he made 31 catches for 493 yards and six touchdowns.
"There are things just to refresh your memory with, but a lot of the stuff I do remember," Kearse said Thursday. "Like you said, I spent quite some time with Coach Bev and just kind of looking over the playbook and refreshing my memory, and a lot of things are just starting to ... come back and I'm able to pick up pretty quickly."
Patricia, who was the Patriots' defensive coordinator at that time, said he has briefly talked with Kearse about the catch in the past and that it is part of the history shared between the two.
"We kind of joked about it a little bit but quickly moved on," Patricia said. "Obviously, a great little tie-in to our history together, which is fun. Doesn't mean anything going forward, but it's fun."
Also Thursday, the Lions waived receiver Jordan Smallwood.
ESPN's Michael Rothstein and Rich Cimini contributed to this report.