Packers’ $18 Million All-Pro Named One of ‘Worst’ Signings of Free Agency

The Green Bay Packers made some splashier signings this offseason than fans are accustomed to seeing, though one is catching some early criticism.

Ryan Fowler of Bleacher Report on Monday, April 15, included cornerback/All-Pro kickoff return specialist Keisean Nixon as among the “14 worst free-signings” of this offseason after the team inked him to a three-year deal worth $18 million total.

In what is an extremely talented class of nickel corners in the upcoming draft, the need to re-up with Keisean Nixon could have remained secondary for Green Bay. I like Nixon’s ability as both a corner and as a returner, but he’s not being paid roughly $6 million per year to just return kicks, and ironing out the details in man coverage remains a must in his game.

With 11 overall picks, including four on Day 2, prioritizing [one of several rookie cornerbacks] could have saved money for GM Brian Gutekunst and provided a fundamentally higher level of cover corner at the nickel spot. The expectation is that Nixon will start at nickel in 2024 after allowing 717 yards as the primary man in coverage, 18th-most of any corner in football.

Packers KR Keisean Nixon Hyped Over New NFL Kickoff Rules Coming in 202

Packers, Keisean Nixon

While the Packers would probably do well to have considered Nixon’s prowess as a nickel cornerback first and as a two-time All-Pro kickoff returner (2022, 2023) second, changes coming to that phase of the NFL game in 2024 should benefit both Nixon and Green Bay.

Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated outlined the new rules on March 26, adding insight into why they should help Nixon excel and the Packers get more bang for their buck on his new contract.

The change will be a game-changer. The ball will continue to be kicked at the [35-yard-line]. However, the kick-coverage team will align at the return team’s 40. The kick-return team will align at [its own] 35. The return team will have nine players in the “setup zone,” which is between the 30- and 35-yard line, with at least seven of the players touching the 35.

That leaves two returners inside the 20 to field the kick. Or, as the Packers will try to do, one player back deep to serve as another blocker for Nixon. Only the kicker and returners will be allowed to move before the ball hits the ground or is touched by one of the returners.

Nixon took to social media last month following the announcement of the one-year experiment and was loud about his plans to take advantage of it.

“LOL,” Nixon posted to X on March 21. “Go ahead and approve that [kick return] rule and I’ma go back to back to back… #K9.”

Keisean Nixon Was Below-Average CB in Coverage for Packers Last Seaso

Keisean Nixon, Packers

Nixon led the league in kickoff return attempts with 35 and 30 in each of the previous two seasons, respectively, and will presumably amass more tries in 2024 under the new rules. He also led the NFL in kickoff return yards with 1,009 and 782 over the last two years, respectively, per Pro Football Reference. Nixon added a TD in 2022.

But while his return skills have proven superb, his abilities as a cornerback are below average by definition, at least according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). PFF ranked Nixon as the 81st-best cornerback out of 127 players who saw enough snaps in 2023 to qualify at the position.

Nixon allowed 63 receptions on 78 targets, per PFF, affording opposing QBs a collective passer rating of 103.3. He tallied one interception on the year to go along with six pass deflections and half a sack.

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