How Will the Packers Approach Cornerback Beyond 2020?

Kevin King's pending free agency could have a domino effect on the rest of the secondary. 

The cornerback unit is one of the most interesting positions going into the 2020 season, and a large part of that is due to it being a position that’s been consistently in flux the last few seasons.

We’ve talked about the 2016 NFC Championship Game ad nauseum and what that did to the Packers secondary. Green Bay has spent a plethora of recent draft picks on cornerbacks, and we’ve seen how a bulk of those selections have worked out. But, the defensive backs had finally found some consistency in 2019. Would Green Bay really consider shaking things up once again in 2021 when Kevin King enters free agency? 

King had a healthy season playing in 15 regular season games, and that gave him the opportunity to prove what kind of player he can be in the league. He led the team with five interceptions, and also had 15 passes defensed with 66 total tackles and one sack. 

Unfortunately, King enters free agency after this season with a star-studded group. The 2021 class will force Green Bay to make some of the toughest decisions in recent memory. This loaded class includes Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, and Aaron Jones. The Packers won’t be able to pay everyone, so would King be one of the odd men out? Even with the consistency he’s helped bring to the cornerback position? 

That decision will likely depend on the production the team gets out of the rest of the group, a group that includes third-year corners Josh Jackson and Chandon Sullivan, second-year corner Ka’dar Hollman, and a bevy of talented undrafted free agents (playing at a position the Packers have historically found success at with undrafted players). With Jerry Gray also joining the Packers as the team's defensive backs coach, there's a lot of potential to work with in the young room. 

As far as we know, the Packers aren’t bringing Tramon Williams back, and doing so could hamper the development of the aforementioned cornerbacks on the roster. With King’s contract looming heavy entering the season, Green Bay needs to know what it has in the cornerback room. The Packers only find that out by giving guys like Sullivan and Jackson plenty of playing time. 

There is one name that’s entirely locked in though, and that’s Jaire Alexander. He’s impressed since entering the league in 2018, and he’s only going to continue to get better. This past season he played 99% of snaps for the Packers defense and had two interceptions with 17 passes defensed. If a few more of those tipped passes turn into picks, Alexander will be in shutdown territory. Fortunately for Green Bay, Alexander has a fifth-year option available in 2022 that could keep him on the roster through 2023. 

Safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are also locked in through 2023, with Savage’s fifth-year option potentially keeping him with the Packers through 2024. 

That’s a type of consistency Green Bay’s secondary hasn’t had in a long time. And while keeping three out of four starters is still significant, now that the Packers have finally found success with its passing defense, it gets complicated thinking about the team turning once again to the draft or the back half of the roster to find a starting boundary corner if this is in fact King’s last season in Green Bay. 

Perhaps the toughest part about all of this is that King’s shot at a contract extension might not even be up to him. If a player like Sullivan proves he can be the guy, or an undrafted rookie like Marc Antoine-Dequoy makes a splash, the Packers would have to consider retaining the cheaper option with so many huge names entering free agency at the same time this next offseason. King could be out even with another impressive season through no fault of his own. 

However the Packers decide to proceed with the cornerback position, fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that a unit that’s made so much progress these last few seasons doesn’t start regressing again once pieces start moving. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (33)

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arthurl's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:03 am

Good article and will have to see how the season plays out if there is one. King looked good last year and showed his value when healthy. I just think if he plays well again, the Pack will decide not to meet what he rightfully deserves and he will move on. So the hope is one of these other guys shows promise, or they will look at CB early in the draft. Jackson should have been the guy, my hope is this new position coach can get him in position to be successful.

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elliesmith's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:11 am

Great

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NickPerry's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:33 am

Last year King Finally showed something other than his name on the injury report and IR list. He's excellent in man to man and hopefully can stack some success. King will always be the dude Ted Thompson ended up with after passing on TJ Watt in my eyes.

If King is able to stay healthy and improve, he's move up on the list of "Must Signs". With all the draft capital the Packers have used the last 5 years on the secondary, the last thing I want to see in 2021 in another 1st or 2nd round pick used in the secondary. LT, WR, and perhaps ILB (Still) are still higher on my list as positions I'd like to see the Packers address. Kings play can/will have a big effect on the next draft.

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nostradanus's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:45 am

Secondary is even more critical in today’s NFL and it is important to have premium players there. After years of struggle the Packers have re-invested precious draft capital at this position and they are now starting to reap the benefits.

Mistakes have been made in the past such as letting Mika Hyde and Casey Hayward walk in free agency and trading Damarious Randall for Kiser, really Kiser?!

The Packers need to Lock up their premium young players including Kevin king.
King isn’t the perfect player but he’s pretty damn good and of course Alexander can be a shut down corner.

The biggest move the Packers made this off-season was hiring Jerry Gray.
Gray will get the most out of this unit and the cream will rise to the top.
In fact, I believe Josh Jackson will find new life under Gray's leadership and will finally live up to his second round draft pedigree.

This is the best young secondary to Packers have had in a long long time, hopefully the front office has learned from past mistakes.

Gutey & Russ Ball, your mission: Identify your premium young stars and find a way to get them all signed.

That is all

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mrtundra's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:38 am

King had a better season than Jaire did, last year. For my money, I think Kevin King is our best DB. Jaire dropped way too many passes that should have been INTs, while King led the Packers in INTs. Let's see if Gute can work some sort of magic to keep Kevin King in Green and Gold.

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Guam's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:55 am

Assuming King plays as well this year as he did last year, I believe he will be a priority resign for the Packers. Of all of the Packer free agents, I think Clarke and King will be the two the Packers resign. They are young, ascending players and those are the kind you keep. Aging third contract players are the type the Packers have historically passed on.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 10, 2020 at 11:55 am

Another winner. Assuming decent health, King moves up to the top because DB is so critical. Half of your defense is DBs, and they get hurt a lot because they’re involved in high speed tackles, and there’s not a team in the league that has too many guys who can cover and tackle.

I agree that Clark would be a great resign, but I believe we’ll try to replace him in the draft. Clark is in the 15-20$$ million per year range and a first round pick would be like $3 million per year. He won’t be as good, but he shouldn’t be hot garbage, either.

Retaining King locks up the secondary for the remainder of the Rodgers Era, and the front office has shown a great willingness to spend resources on the secondary but hasn’t done much on building the Dline and I think they’ll continue . So that’s why I think we’re more likely to try to get King than any of the rest of our FAs.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 11, 2020 at 11:12 am

It is possible GB opts to re-sign the more affordable over the studs. They probably spend $10M of their cap space are RFAs. We'll see what they do with the (pittance?) (limited amount?) of cap space remaining.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:57 am

Many comments over the past few weeks/months about “if there is a season”. I assume that if the season gets cancelled, the guaranteed portions of contracts get paid and 2021 (and the need to sign our new free agents) is upon us without having seen if rookies or the “step-up guys” can perform. With a cancelled season is there any scenario where there is simply a gap year and our large class of FAs rolls forward to 2022?

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stockholder's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:05 am

I say sign him now. Gutey signed Lowrey early. There is No reason for delays. They know who is good. They can't replace these guys anytime soon. The doubts are gone. Both Clark and King have proved their worth.

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taarons420's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:31 pm

Not sure the Lowry extension is the ammo you want to use here.

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BAMABADGER's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:19 am

Please no more mention of Marc Antoine-Dequoy. He is not NCAA let alone NFL caliber. Fast yes, but no football skills.

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gkarl's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:53 am

I doubt anyone thinks he's going to be a starter or even make the 53 TY for that matter, but the guy can run and has some size. Those are things you can't teach. That's why people talk about him, they see potential. As for the FB skills you may be right, but hopefully Gray can make something out of him in a couple of years. Let just see what the guy can do with some coaching, we may get a gem, them again it might be fools gold.

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nostradanus's picture

July 10, 2020 at 11:01 am

I agree with you I have watched film of his games and was not impressed.

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dobber's picture

July 11, 2020 at 01:11 pm

He also hasn't been coached very much. He's a low-risk investment, practice squad guy.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 10, 2020 at 09:19 am

There aren't 4 starters in the secondary, there are 5. And the way Pettine runs his defense, there are 6. The secondary is a very underrated problem on the team. One weak link, and you get exposed in the modern NFL quickly. Pettine is right about that. We look good for 2020, assuming we get a nickel corner to step up, and of course, assuming health. The truth is, there aren't very many teams in better secondary shape than we are in 2020.

However, as the article suggests, things get dicey after 2020. Assuming we have a 2020 season, that is. I do not think King gets re-signed, unless it's the franchise tag. If he stays healthy and plays well, but not excellently, he will price himself out of town but won't be a "must have" at the expense of keeping Jones. If he doesn't stay healthy, he will be gone.

And if King is gone next year, we're looking at replacing the nickel AND LCB. And that, my friends, is about what most teams look like going into an NFL season. No teams have all 22 positions locked up.

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Since'61's picture

July 10, 2020 at 09:20 am

The Packers need to find a way to keep King. He is a good player. We need a secondary that can shut down opponents WRs. That enables us to play the run more effectively.

If there is a season in 2020 every team we play is at least going to try and run the ball down our throats the way SF did in the NFCCG.
Keep our secondary together at least through their second contracts and focus on building DL and ILB so that we can stop the run. Thanks, Since ‘61

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 10, 2020 at 11:13 am

I feel Bahk and Clark are special players, whereas King, while decent when healthy, isn't special. Also while Bahk and especially Clark have stayed pretty healthy throughout their careers, King has had numerous injuries that he has dealt with.

There is no way I see them keeping all three after this year. I think King would be the easiest of the three to replace.

Just my armchair GM opinion, which of course means absolutely zilch.

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Oppy's picture

July 10, 2020 at 07:10 pm

I think King is under rated. When he's been healthy he shows out pretty strong- like a legitimate starting CB in this league, and probably upper half of that group.

I also can't argue with your take that Bakh and Clark are better players at their positions than King is at his. That's not a knock on King for me, that's an affirmation of the talent KC and DB bring to the table.

What terrifies me is that the path to a successful transition to successful, post-Rodgers era Packers football play for the next decade or more is paved by a strong defense. I think we have many young players on this defense at all levels (with exception to the glaring hole at ILB) that we could earmark as foundational players to build around. Kenny Clark at nose; the Smiths and Gary on the edges. King, Alexander are superb young talent at corner, and Savage is a promising piece to put a lid on the defense (Maybe even Raven Greene.)

That's a darn decent core to build a defense around for the next 5-10 years. A defense that could keep a young, talented QB in a lot of games while he's learning the ropes and comes into his own. But I fear Rodgers contract is going to hamstring the Packers' ability to keep a lot of these young talents. I sincerely hope we pull a SB out of the next year or two, because we're going to let a lot of talent pass us by during the next 2 or 3 years.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 11, 2020 at 11:45 am

"I also can't argue with your take that Bakh and Clark are better players at their positions than King is at his. That's not a knock on King for me, that's an affirmation of the talent KC and DB bring to the table."

I like King as well. My post was not intended to be a knock on him at all. I wish we could keep all three. Aaron Jones too. Unfortunately, the reality of the SC and Rodger's contract makes that pretty much impossible. Which brings the team to the unenviable decision of who to keep and who to let walk. I just feel it would be harder to replace a Pro Bowl left tackle or a young ascending Dlineman than a cornerback with a pretty significant injury history.

Again, just my take. I'd hate to be the one to make that decision. But as they say....that's why they get the big $$.

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Oppy's picture

July 11, 2020 at 12:09 pm

I agree about the tough decisions, and I agree top tier LT's don't grow on trees. But on the other hand, the impact of having two very good starting corners on your defense in the NFL today can't be understated, and while they are more numerous that top flight LT's, I don't think it's easy to find exceptional corners, either.

I feel like there's a lot of things that have been lining up well from a timing perspective for the long term health of this team that will not be able to be seized upon due to that contract.

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dobber's picture

July 11, 2020 at 01:14 pm

Coverage and pass rush go hand in hand. The best defenses do both. CMIII and Nick Perry benefitted very strongly a few years ago from a set of good cover corners who allowed their slow developing rush to make some plays. It could very well be that with the Smiths and Gary in hand, BG might be playing a longer game at CB and hoping he can shift money that would be going to King to another spot.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 10, 2020 at 12:06 pm

FWIW....the Packers spend fewer dollars on CBs than most teams. Safety is another story.

Alexander is our highest paid at only 3 million per year. King might require as much as 10 million a year, and that would still only pit him about 15Th on the list....a bargain.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 11, 2020 at 11:15 am

Yeah, GB spends firsts and seconds instead of money.

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dobber's picture

July 11, 2020 at 01:22 pm

CBs get paid, but we'll have no idea what havoc COVID is going to wreak on the cap. I think it's going to be a very slow FA market for a couple years.

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Lphill's picture

July 10, 2020 at 01:19 pm

King will be gone he is not a top tier corner , he’s not an interception machine I think they replace in the draft, he is a good corner but not great by any means.

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dobber's picture

July 11, 2020 at 01:16 pm

So now it's draft to replace Bakhtiari...Clark...King...

How many first round picks do the Packers have next year?

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Lphill's picture

July 11, 2020 at 03:15 pm

Baktheri’s replacement will be Runyan , 26 starts at left tackle.

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PhantomII's picture

July 10, 2020 at 08:43 pm

I think if King stays healthy and does his job this year he gets resigned. I was looking at CB salaries also and 10 mill sounded about right to me also. Maybe some language in the contract that pays him per game to cover the team a bit. J. Alexander started out with a big chip on his shoulder but a few vet WR's with double moves knocked it off and have not given it back yet. Hopefully the new secondary coach helps him get it back. Both CB's are above average when healthy and room to get better. King lost a lot of field time. He will only get better when his body is in one piece. I'm glad a vet like Tramon was there for a few years to show these young guys how to keep their bodies is football shape and any other pointers he could give. That is huge for these young guys. We are going to lose 2-3 quality vets after this year and it will absolutely have an impact next year. Like I have said this is "THE YEAR" to get it done.

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packerbacker-53's picture

July 11, 2020 at 04:40 am

I believe he had an ok year. Flashes of what we have expected this whole time, but i also saw several instances where he was targeted by the opposing offense and was smoked like a pack of Kools. It appeared to me in many games that he was picked on and gave up plays far more than the rest of the secondary. Even old man Williams didn't get thrown at as much. I recall saying "damn it King" a lot. Even my wife pointed that out as the season went on and she's a Broncos fan. Just sayn.

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Spock's picture

July 11, 2020 at 06:20 am

Maggie, another great article as usual. I always enjoy your well thought out articles. Special kudos for working in the words: plethora, bevy, and (everyone's favorite) aforementioned. :)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 11, 2020 at 11:16 am

I agree with your entire comment. Just saying....

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dobber's picture

July 11, 2020 at 01:17 pm

Just sayin'... ;)

OH, TK! Where art thou?

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