The Green Bay Packers’ defense played their best game of the season in the divisional round against the San Francisco 49ers, despite the loss. Since then, Green Bay retained almost every 2021 contributor, star cornerback Jaire Alexander will return, and the team took two first-round defenders likely to play a role right away. Should Joe Barry’s unit keep ascending, the Packers might have the best defense they’ve had since their Super Bowl-winning 2010 team.
That assumes everyone can stay healthy and the depth pieces can hold their own, which is never guaranteed in the high-stakes NFL. While the starting roster is a beaut, there isn’t much depth at some spots.
Take cornerback, for example. Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas are a frightening trio, especially if Alexander recovers well and Stokes and Douglas build on their 2021 seasons. But beyond those three lies Shemar Jean-Charles, Keisean Nixon, Kiondre Thomas, Kabion Ento, and Innis Gaines. While there are some guys they really like there, there isn’t much in terms of proven talent.
Cornerback is a premier position in today’s pass-heavy game. If only there were a veteran available who knows the defense, is well-liked by the team and the coaches, and is currently a free agent. The Packers need depth, and it’s there for the right price. I’m talking about the return of the king.
King is obviously not the most popular name in Packer Nation. He hasn’t quite reached Brandon Bostick levels of infamy, but his 2020 NFC Championship game performance and his inability to be T.J. Watt haven’t done him any favors.
King struggled with injuries through his first five NFL seasons. However, even when he’s healthy, King hasn’t been able to overcome his shortcomings as a featured corner.
Last season, it was clear early on that rookie Eric Stokes was outplaying King. There’s no revisionist history here. But he doesn’t need to be a featured corner in Green Bay anymore. Josh Jacksons aside, Brian Gutekunst has been much better at identifying good cornerbacks than his predecessor, and the Packers have a phenomenal starting trio. Signing King would be a depth move, and that’s a good spot for him.
After the 2020 season, I would have said moving on from King was the right move. But after the way 2021 played out, it’s clear King can excel in a rotational role.
Alexander’s season ended early, thrusting Stokes into a featured role early. The Packers plucked Rasul Douglas from the Arizona Cardinals practice squad during a rumormania that Stephon Gilmore might be headed to Green Bay. Douglas felt like an unknown consolation prize to many, but he quickly became a major contributor.
Those moves left King as CB3 for most of the season. But he quietly had a solid year, even finding some success as a dime CB. King actually had his best PFF grade in 2021, with a respectable 70.6, while still playing 48% of defensive snaps. Not bad for a team-friendly one-year deal.
That deal expired without the Packers making a move, so he currently has a $3 million cap hit. If Green Bay is gonna be paying him anyway, it could be wise to bring him back on another team-friendly deal.
The Packers won’t be the only team looking to add depth at corner. Another wave of free agency is expected soon as teams attack positions of need they couldn’t fill during the draft. In a rare move, the Packers didn’t select a single cornerback in the ’22 draft. While they have some intriguing UDFAs they like, an experienced veteran like King makes sense to fill out the room.
CB-needy teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles will likely look into options like King. It would pay to beat them to the punch, especially since King is so familiar with the scheme and locker room.
King even offers some depth at safety — he spent some time there at Washington — another position lacking insurance beyond the starters. Play him in a hybrid-type role as needed, and you’ve got yourself some solid insurance in the secondary.
Most teams don’t even have two great cornerbacks, let alone three, so maybe CB4 isn’t a massive area of need. But injuries happen, as we saw last year. In 2016, LaDarius Gunter had to shadow Julio Jones in an NFC Championship game. The more good corners you have, the better.
King doesn’t have to be Jaire Alexander-level to bring value to the team. His time to be a featured corner in Green Bay is over. But his return makes so much sense from a value point of view. He’s available, knows the defense, knows the team, the coaches like him, and he won’t be expensive. It won’t be popular, but who cares? Bring back the King.