Money may be limited this offseason, but teams across the NFL have been strategic with their financial commitments for both current players and incoming free agent signings.
The Green Bay Packers have been no different, working out restructured deals with several of their top-earning assets before re-signing Kevin King this past week through a creative contract with voidable years. While the Packers have not been as active in seeking out free agents from other teams, they have been successful in keeping their own. Today’s musings examine the Packers’ decision to try and sustain last year’s success, while also taking a deeper look at the semi-controversial decision to retain King’s services another year.
Kevin King’s re-signing has been met with negativity, but there is sense to it
While the team may receive flack for re-signing King after several injury-plagued, fairly replaceable seasons in Green Bay, the fact of the matter is that the Packers failed to adequately prepare a year ago in order to comfortably move on. In the end, a one-year deal for $4.75 million plus incentives to keep King around will not set the team back from making investments in future years and, frankly, that money probably would have had to be spent toward another cornerback anyway. For the time being, the Packers are granted one more season to develop anticipated newcomers into dependable contributors while keeping some continuity and chemistry in the secondary.
The re-signing also may be reasonable at King’s age (25), especially if he can tap into some of that remaining potential he carried when originally drafted. And looking around the league, King’s contract is somewhat justified by the veteran cornerback market that remains expensive. Adoree’ Jackson landed a three-year, $39 million deal with New York that puts him on equal footing with Stephon Gilmore in New England, even after losing almost a full season to injury last year. After a bounce-back season, 30-year old Xavier Rhodes cashed in with a one-year, $6.5 million contract. Patrick Peterson has not been the same lockdown corner he once was, yet received a $10 million offer sheet for next season from Minnesota. Even 32-year old Richard Sherman is estimated to have a $9.9 million annual market value.
Would any of these players have truly moved the needle enough to pay the extra financial cost and bank on schematic fit? Plus, the Packers should get a fairly motivated King as he essentially plays on a prove-it, one-year deal. Injuries are a legitimate concern with his track record, but King’s best season by the numbers came two years ago when he was nearly fully healthy and even a return to that production raises the bar for Green Bay’s defense.
In King, the Packers can still dream on reaching some level of a ceiling in 2021 while having a realistic understanding of his floor. Familiarity tends to win out. By season’s end, the Packers may even have a rookie that can supplant him. But it was not a luxury the team could afford with the talent on the roster at this point. Prior to next month’s draft, Green Bay has its top three corners returning from last season and, if nothing else, still has an opportunity to improve its position group before training camp. There is room to improve, certainly, but the scenario without King could look much worse.
Green Bay’s core remains intact, setting the team up for a Super Bowl-or-bust season
Two weeks into free agency, the Packers are not likely to add many, if any, flashy newcomers this free agency. However, the team has turned in a surprisingly great offseason so far in terms of adjusting current stars’ salaries in order to retain additional players internally. Clearly, Packers brass remains confident in the team’s ability to sustain its 2020 success and make another push toward reaching the Super Bowl, even if they do not appear as aggressive on the surface.
Thus far, the Packers have been able to extend stays for such players as Aaron Jones, Kevin King, and Marcedes Lewis without having to release Preston Smith. As long as Green Bay can find a suitable replacement for center Corey Linsley, the Packers should keep almost the entirety of its starting core in place for 2021 to try and run it back. Lewis, praised by Aaron Rodgers and others last year for his veteran perspective, appears to be the kind of “glue guy” that helps keep some of the offensive synergy from last season with Jamaal Williams leaving. While the financials have not fully materialized for Lewis, the two-year, $8 million contract (even if only $2.1 million is guaranteed) represents a sizeable offer for a player of Lewis’ age and declining on-field performance. Likewise, King received a more lucrative deal than expected.
Green Bay was seemingly ready to overpay in order to keep most of its role players intact for another run, and it makes sense since the Packers were arguably the best team in the league for most of 2020.
Where is the round one wide receiver chatter?
Let me make this clear from the beginning: I do not believe the Packers need to draft a wide receiver in the first round next month. However, after receiving heavy criticism for about a year now for not providing enough weapons around Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has surprisingly not been linked to many wide receivers early in mock drafts.
Is it because of the growth of players like Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling last season? Is it because media and fans have given up on the Packers actually drafting a first-round wide receiver (they have not done so since 2002)? Is it simply because the need at cornerback stuck out like a sore thumb after the NFC Championship Game? Either way, it has been far more common to see a cornerback, defensive lineman, linebacker, or offensive tackle slotted to Green Bay at 29th overall. Furthermore, there may be more value for the Packers after round one in another deep class of receivers, from slot receivers to possession pass-catchers on the outside.
However, one intriguing name to watch for the Packers if they were to make a round one splash might just be LSU’s Terrace Marshall. Marshall could surge into the end of round one if he tests well at his pro day next week, already boasting 6-foot-3 size, run-after-catch ability, and effective experience lining up inside and out for the Tigers. With Brian Gutekunst’s proven interest in wide receivers with an elite size-speed combination, Marshall could be this year’s receiver to watch, much like Denzel Mims was in 2020.