Clearly, Kevin King isn’t winning any popularity contests with Green Bay Packers faithful at the moment after an awful outing in Week 1.
The much-maligned Packers cornerback had a rough start to the 2021 season this past weekend as his ineptitude in pass coverage at least partially helped the Saints roll to a 38-3 victory. While King was far from the only underachiever for Green Bay’s defense on Sunday, he delivered a performance that was akin to his miserable showing in last season’s NFC Championship Game and raised questions about why the Packers chose to bring him back at all in free agency.
To say King frustrated Packers fans would be the understatement of the year.
Unfortunately for King’s critics, the Packers don’t exactly have the luxury of being able to cut bait on the veteran cornerback. Here’s a look at why releasing him would be extremely difficult for the team:
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Breaking Down Kevin King’s Situation
King needed a win after how his last game in a Packers uniform ended. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had preyed on him all throughout last January’s NFC Championship Game, burning him for two touchdowns and drawing him into a back-breaking defensive pass interference call that many assumed would add up to his departure from Green Bay. And when the Packers opted to give him a second chance in free agency, they were clearly hoping he could rediscover the spark he had in 2019 when he picked off five passes and broke up 15 passes.
Instead, King picked right back up where he left off in all the worst ways against the Saints. While Jameis Winston didn’t go after him as much as Tom Brady did, it was enough for King’s starter status to be called into question. He allowed completions both times that Winston threw into his coverage, including one pass that went 55 yards for a touchdown late in the game. Saints receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey also bullied him into fellow cornerback Chandon Sullivan in the end zone and left him lying on the turf as Juwann Johnson caught his fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
Now, as bad as it was, the Packers might not be motivated to rush through changes to their lineup no matter how many fans are chomping at the bit. King played poorly, but they didn’t sign him to a new contract to ditch him after one bad performance. It is also that contract that makes the possibility of releasing him unrealistic until after the year.
According to Over the Cap, King’s new deal is a one-year contract worth $5 million that comes with a fully guaranteed $3.75 million signing bonus. There are also four void seasons tacked onto the end of it that allowed the Packers to spread out his earnings and make his cap hit for the 2021 season a manageable $1.929 million. For a quality veteran cornerback, that’s a steal of a price.
Unfortunately, the contract also comes with some built-in protection for King. As independent salary-cap specialist Ken Ingalls noted following Week 1’s loss, the Packers would still be on the hook for King’s $1 million base salary if they released him due to his salary being “subject to 100% termination pay.” In other words, the Packers would still have to pay him his money and count it against their salary cap to get rid of him, making it an extremely unfavorable business decision for the team.
The good news, however, is that the Packers do still have some options with King.
Will Eric Stokes be the Solution for Packers?
Again, the Packers are likely not going to rush to judgment on a starter after one game. The coaching staff spoke favorably of King during training camp and the preseason despite him missing the first few weeks with a hamstring injury, and it isn’t like all the blame for their loss to the Saints can be laid at his feet.
“I think our value (of him) within our building is much higher maybe than public perception is out there,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters on August 24. “He’s a guy I have a lot of faith, a lot of confidence in. I think when he’s healthy, he’s really tough to deal with, his length when he challenges guys at the line of scrimmage and gets his hands on them. That’s a tough matchup for most wide receivers.”
At the same time, the Packers have a premier rookie primed and ready to rock if they feel a change is necessary for Monday Night Football. The Packers used their top pick in the 2021 NFL draft to acquire former Georgia standout cornerback Eric Stokes and tossed him into the fire during training camp with frequent matchups against the All-Pro tandem of Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers.
While Stokes still has much to learn, he looked good during his limited reps in Week 1. He finished as Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded player (79.3) for the Packers defense against the Saints and made a fantastic stop the one time he was targetted in two coverage snaps, perfectly timing a hit on tight end Adam Trautman that caused him to drop a pass from Winston on third-and-long.
On the surface, a promotion for Stokes into King’s starting spot sounds like a grand idea for those eager to see more, but don’t forget the Packers run a good amount of three-cornerback looks. If Stokes is the man opposite Jaire Alexander on the outside, it doesn’t necessarily mean King won’t also be on the field. The Packers also have a habit of taking their sweet time working in their first-round picks; although, circumstances were the reason for Rashan Gary and Jordan Love seeing little-to-no action as rookies, and Darnell Savage Jr. got going right away for the Packers’ secondary in 2019.
Maybe the Packers will feel confident enough in Stokes to give him more reps against the Lions in Week 2. They might also feel compelled to take snaps away from King or outright bench him if they think Alexander, Stokes and Chandon Sullivan can offer their secondary a better trio. Unless general manager Brian Gutekunst decides to find a trade partner for King prior to the November 2 trade deadline, Packers fans should probably get used to the veteran cornerback sticking things out for the rest of 2021.