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Packers 2021 Free Agents: Return of Kevin King will depend on the outside market

Green Bay has some moves to be made at cornerback this offseason and King is the most notable name on the list.

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2020 season. We also will break down the team’s free agent class for 2021. Today, we examine the cornerbacks.

It was not too long ago that the Green Bay Packers were searching year in and year out for help early in the draft to shore up the cornerback position. When the Packers drafted Jaire Alexander three years ago, the unit quickly evolved into a team strength in the years that followed and restored optimism that the future of the position was in good hands. Yet, following a rather inconsistent 2020 season, it appears that cornerback will need to be addressed this offseason once again.

While an outside addition could certainly be in play during the upcoming draft to bolster the group, the Packers face difficult contract decisions beforehand with a few members of the current roster. Leading the way is Kevin King, a former second-round pick who has spent his time in Green Bay battling injuries and, most recently, a game to forget against Tampa Bay. King’s unrestricted status makes him likely to test the market, but he is not the only corner whose future in Green Bay remains in jeopardy this offseason.

Kevin King

NFL Experience: 4 accrued seasons
Free Agency Category: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: 4 years, $7.08 million rookie contract
2020 Stats: 11 games played, 57 total tackles, five passes defended, one fumble forced, one fumble recovered

Regardless of how King’s career plays out, he will be forever remembered as the player the Packers chose instead of T.J. Watt on draft weekend in 2017. In 2019, King was beginning to look like every bit of the player the team imagined when they selected him in the second round after fighting through a myriad of injuries as a professional. Playing in nearly all regular season games and intercepting five passes, King was a true budding playmaker. However, injuries limited King to 11 up-and-down regular season games again this past season in which he allowed a 63% passer rating and a 95.8 passer rating, according to Pro Football Reference. It is difficult to see the Packers paying anywhere near the going rate for young cornerbacks on the open free agent market. This is especially so after King played his worst game as a pro in the NFC Championship Game.

At the same time, the Packers’ lack of depth at corner makes him tough to lose this spring in particular. At just 25 years of age, King possesses the kind of length, height, and speed that are coveted in today’s NFL for the boundary. There is an argument to be made that King has still not reached his ceiling. Even at his worst, King has been somewhere around an average NFL corner whose tackling effort can leave plenty to be desired (missed tackle percentage of over 17%).

The Packers may not be opposed to bringing King back at the right price, but it is likely that another team will be more willing to outbid for his services as an unrestricted free agent, especially with the Packers needing to consider their other pressing unrestricted candidates.

Chandon Sullivan

NFL Experience: 3 accrued seasons
Free Agency Category: Restricted
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $750,000
2020 Stats: 16 games, 41 total tackles, 6 passes defended, one interception, one touchdown

In a few ways, Sullivan’s 2020 results were awfully similar to King’s. Signing Sullivan was a bit of a coup two years ago, as the young player settled into a reliable slot corner role for the Packers. The expectation was that Sullivan would build on that experience and success in his second season in Green Bay. Unfortunately, Sullivan, like King, also took a step back and had a rather miserable showing against the Buccaneers to cap the season. Over the course of the regular season, Sullivan allowed completions at nearly a 68% clip and a passer rating of 95.8. The Packers have certainly experienced worse play from their nickel corners, but Sullivan proved to be much more replaceable than desired after a strong start to the season.

As a restricted free agent, retaining Sullivan will not break the bank. Still, finding a slot replacement via the draft could come at a much lesser price than the roughly $2.24 million original-round tender (that was the cost for the 2020 season) Sullivan would command even if another team does not sign him to an offer sheet. Sullivan could certainly be back in Green Bay next season, but new defensive coordinator Joe Barry will have a role in that decision-making.

Parry Nickerson

NFL Experience: 3 accrued seasons
Free Agency Category: Restricted
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $750,000
2020 Stats: 1 game played

The Tulane product has been a journeyman thus far as a professional after coming into the league as a sixth-round pick and appearing in just one game for the Packers in 2020. In that regular season game against Tampa Bay, Nickerson logged two special teams snaps and zero plays with the defense. Not long after, Nickerson was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and was designated to return for the NFC Championship Game but did not.

At the aforementioned original round tender price, Nickerson almost surely will not be back in Green Bay next season as the Packers add depth to their cornerback room.

Kabion Ento

NFL Experience: 1 accrued season
Free Agency Category: Exclusive Rights
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $610,000
2020 Stats: N/A, Injured Reserve

The Packers have seen enough in Ento to keep him around the past two years as a previously undrafted free agent. Ento was a college wide receiver at Colorado before transitioning to cornerback as a Packer. Spending the 2019 season on the team’s practice squad, Ento had surgery for a broken bone in his foot this past August. Still, Ento made the initial 53-man roster and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

Ento possesses some intriguing size and athleticism for the position despite a considerable lack of experience, and it helps his cause that the cornerback room is in need of support. If the Packers choose to continue their position change project and see Ento as ready to be an on-field contributor in 2021, they could do so at a reasonable price. As an exclusive rights free agent, Ento would be due the league minimum salary for a second-year pro if the Packers extend a tender.