On Sunday, it was announced that the Green Bay Packers had signed starting left tackle David Bakhtiari to a new contract extension. The timing of the announcement was a surprise, but the deal shouldn’t have shocked anyone. It was a contract that the 29 year old Bakhtiari had earned. He earned it with his play, but also with his durability. Another current Packer is in a similar situation. While he has played well when he has played, he hasn’t been nearly as durable as Bakhtiari. Kevin King and his inability to stay healthy might make it easy for the Packers to move on from him.
Kevin King Struggling to Earn Contract Extension
Similar to David Bakhtiari, Kevin King plays a position that the Packers front office values. Unlike the inside linebacker, throughout the years the Packers have illustrated how much they value the cornerback position.
In the past 20 years, the Packers have drafted a cornerback eight times in either the first or second round. In today’s NFL world, it can be argued that the cornerback position is the most important position on defense. There isn’t much doubt that general manager Brian Gutekunst understands that. That is why deciding on Kevin King and his future won’t be easy. But with what is going on with King and his lack of availability, that might be too much for Gutekunst to overlook.
Career Season in 2019
The Packers had high hopes going into 2020 for Kevin King. In 2019, King showed why former general manager Ted Thompson selected him in the second round in 2017.
King started 14 games for the Packers in 2019. It was the most games he had started in an NFL season. It was also the most production he has had as a professional. He played in a total of 15 regular season games, registering 66 combined tackles, forcing one fumble, and registering one sack. That season, he also led the Packers defense in interceptions with five.
Not only was King productive, but he played the “Robin” to Jaire Alexander‘s “Batman”. Alexander has shown he is the Packers top cover corner. But King has also shown that he is a very capable cornerback himself.
At 6’3″ tall, blessed with a long wing span, King is a perfect fit for the style defensive coordinator Mike Pettine prefers to run. King utilizes that wing span in bump and run coverage. When he was available, King was exactly what the Packers wanted in a cornerback.
Fast forward to the present, the Packers have once again had to play without King, something the Packers should be used to.
Injuries Can’t be Overlooked
Kevin King played in 15 games in 2019. That number, 15, is the total amount of games he played in during 2017 and 2018 combined.
In 2017, his rookie season, King played in just nine games. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury, an injury he dealt with while playing at the University of Washington. He returned in 2018, but missed time with a groin injury. He returned from that injury but was hurt once again, this time with a hamstring injury. That injury forced him to miss the remainder of 2018.
This season, King has played in just four games. This time, he has been sidelined by a quad injury. It is an injury that has forced him to miss the last five games. Presently, his status for next week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts is up in the air.
Even if King returns and plays the rest of the season, the Packers will still have a tough decision to make. His rookie deal will be expiring after this season. He has yet to play a full regular season schedule. 2019 showed some glimpses on what he can do when he is healthy. Still, it is highly doubtful that his one productive season is enough to overlook his plethora off injuries.
Similar Situation the Packers Faced Last Off-Season
The decision Gutekunst faces with Kevin King won’t be anything new to him. He faced a somewhat similar situation last 0ff-season.
Longtime starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga became a free agent after last season. Bulaga was a very productive starting right tackle for the Packers for eight seasons. But similar to King, Bulaga couldn’t stay healthy for the Packers.
In his eight seasons as a Packer, Bulaga was only able to play a full 16 game regular season schedule just twice. There isn’t much doubt that his injury history played a big part in Gutekunst in allowing Bulaga to depart as a free agent.
If history is any indication, it might appear that King will also be departing as a free agent this off-season. However, there is still a possibility that King might return next season. That possibility is linked to what the Packers have at cornerback on their current roster.
No Obvious Replacement for Kevin King
Letting Kevin King walk would be a lot easier for Gutekunst and the Packers if they currently had an option to replace King at starting cornerback. Unfortunately for Gutekunst and the Packers, it appears they don’t.
With King out since week four, former second round pick Josh Jackson has been playing in place of King. Jackson’s overall play hasn’t given much hope that he can replace King for the long term. Jackson has struggled with penalties and even in his third season, he still doesn’t look comfortable.
The only other option the Packers have as a long-term replacement for King is Chandon Sullivan. Sullivan had a strong 2019 season playing as a slot cornerback. But this season, Sullivan hasn’t been as productive. He played some boundary cornerback last week in the Packers victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Alexander was out with a concussion last week and Sullivan stepped in. Sullivan’s play was at best uneven.
If the Packers feel they don’t have a replacement for King, they will need to look at the draft or free agency for help. But the Packers face a lot of questions going into the draft and in free agency.
What the Packers Might Do
The Packers have a lot of holes to fill this coming off-season. They need help at defensive line, inside linebacker, and obviously, wide receiver. Along with that, with the extensions to Bakhtiari and Kenny Clark, the Packers won’t have a lot of money to spend. They also need to decide what to do with running back Aaron Jones, who is in the last year of his rookie deal.
Gutekunst could try to reach a short term “prove it” deal with King’s representatives. That could be beneficial for both sides. It could buy the Packers time to finding a long-term replacement to King. It also gives King at least another year to prove he can be productive and healthy.
Even if the Packers re-sign King to a prove-it deal, it doesn’t mean King will all of a sudden start being healthy. It is very rare that NFL players start to become healthy as their careers moves along. If you are a player that deals with injuries, that stays with you throughout your career. The Packers will eventually need to find someone who can stay on the field. Right now, it appears Kevin King isn’t that player.
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