On Tuesday, the Green Bay Packers re-signed Kevin King to a one-year contract. The specifics of the 1-year, $6 million deal are not out at this point, so it’s unclear how much of that six million are real dollars and how much are incentives he’s unlikely to reach or playing time bonuses he may not get if he’s replaced. Those variables will obviously impact the “badness” of this move.
Even with those considerations, I don’t understand why Green Bay would make this move, nor why they would make it now. First of all, Kevin King is bad. King had 5 Total Points Saved last year, which effectively makes him a replacement-level cornerback. His only season of good production in that metric was 2019, when he had an unsustainable number of red zone interceptions. Interceptions are already unstable year-over-year, but they’re particularly volatile in the red zone, where the total number of attempts in a season are very low. In 2018, he totaled only 14 Total Points Saved and in 2017 just 7.
PFF has been just as down on him, perhaps even more so. In 2020 he earned a putrid 55.7 grade. In 2017 and 2018, he earned grades of 51 and 56.6, respectively. 2019 was the outlier where he reached 62.5. To contextualize those for you, our own Peter Bukowski had the following tweet:
Kevin King coverage grade by season among CBs with at least 200 snaps— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) March 23, 2021
2017: 123rd of 131
2018: 88th of 135
2019: 69th of 138
2020: 98th of 141
TLDR: He’s been a below average NFL cover CB his entire career.
Even in his peak season of 2019, with all of those interceptions, King graded out as exactly average. His 2017 was seventh percentile, his 2018 was 35th percentile, and his 2020 was 31st percentile. As far as corners who actually play go, King has been pretty bad.
For some more context in how poor King was in 2020:
115 passer rating against, 24th in DVOA, struggles in zone on a primarily zone team, can't really tackle, constantly hurt, etc.— BadgerNoonan (@BadgerNoonan) March 23, 2021
For some context, Paul’s tweet references Green Bay ranking 24th in DVOA against #2 wide receivers, well below-average. Andy Herman’s grading of King has largely had him as a below average corner as well, even discounting for King’s disastrous NFCCG:
Four years of Kevin King grades:— Andy Herman (@AndyHermanNFL) March 23, 2021
2020: -4.50 (-4.20 of which was from NFCCG)
Without the NFCCG he's -0.35 over 4 seasons - and probably deserving of a 1year - $6mil deal. That last game burns deep, however.
The upside for Kevin King, particularly in years where he isn’t getting the benefit of massive positive interception variance, is a below-average starting corner. So why would Green Bay burn some amount of the very little cap space they have on this play?
The reasonable upside with King is pretty low, but the floor is extremely low. His tackling is horrendous, making him a target of opposing offenses in space. Injuries have completely sapped him of his once-elite athleticism, which leads to him having to play a gambling game of either giving an immense amount of cushion to underneath routes or being susceptible to vertical threats, particularly when the defense is in a one-high situation.
While I’m on the topic of injuries, that is the other major concern with King: his availability. King has played in only 64% of the Packers’ regular season games since he entered the league in 2017. He’s had injuries to virtually every part of his lower body at this point, and has a particular propensity for muscle strains. When King plays banged up, as he did in the NFC Championship Game, it can be an absolute disaster. His lack of athleticism at this point leaves next to no margin for error, so if he’s five or ten percent worse than baseline, he becomes effectively unplayable.
My other issue with this move is that there are still a plethora of competent cornerbacks available. Depending on how much of Kevin King’s money is real, Xavier Rhodes signed for $500,000 more despite being a far better player in 2020 in a zone-heavy system. Casey Hayward was released by the Chargers and despite a down 2020, has a long track record of being a high-quality corner. Richard Sherman, despite aging, has still been one of the better corners in the league over the past few years. Janoris Jenkins was released by New Orleans due to their cap situation, and has put up quality advanced metrics for several years. Malcolm Butler was a cap casualty from Tennessee who would have made for a good CB2. The list of available options at boundary corner goes on and on and on and on like a Journey song. Perhaps those players will sign for numbers that are above what Green Bay could offer (though extending their MVP quarterback could provide a lot of room, but that’s a discussion for another day), but as of now, there seemed little reason to sign King before those players found homes.
Signing Kevin King does not preclude the Packers from addressing the position early in the draft. In fact, given where general manager Brian Gutekunst has been for Pro Days, I’d say it is pretty likely Green Bay goes that route, even in round one. I’m not sure how much value there is to having Kevin King there, particularly if that is the route they end up going, versus just having Josh Jackson, Ka’Dar Hollman, and the rookie battle it out when it is expected that the rookie would take over the starting job by October. In the latter case, you also get to keep whatever dollars Kevin King ends up making.
I’d like to leave you with a question to ponder: If I offered you an investment option that was short-term, offered very little upside, but the odds of it being a complete waste of money were meaningfully high, would you invest in it?