Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is special teams linebacker Brandon King, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Brandon King
Position: Linebacker/Safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? King’s path to the NFL was not an easy one: he converted from linebacker to safety, spent time at Highland Community College and Auburn, was not invited to the Scouting Combine, and did not hear his name called in the 2015 draft. He did eventually find a team, however, when the Patriots decided to sign him to a rookie free agent deal. And even though his career with the club started on the practice squad, he made his way to the active roster early during his first season as a pro.
King never looked back. After arriving on New England’s 53-man squad in October 2015, he established himself as a core member of the team’s kicking game units. Even though nagging injuries forced him to miss both the 2019 and the 2020 seasons, he has appeared in a combined 85 regular season and playoff games as a Patriot — all while helping the organization win two Super Bowls and regularly finding himself among the best special teamers in football.
King saw only marginal action on the defensive side of the ball along the way, however. Despite being listed as a linebacker and bringing experience as a defensive back to the table, King has not played a mere two snaps outside of special teams over the course of his seven-year career.
What did his 2021 season look like? After having missed two straight seasons due to a serious quad injury suffered in the summer of 2019, King finally returned to the team in 2021. After already participating in offseason workouts, he also made his way onto the field for training camp and the Patriots’ three preseason games — his first in-game action in two years. Once again slated to play a key role in the kicking game, King made his way onto the 53-man roster and went on to deliver a solid comeback season.
Appearing in 17 of New England’s 18 games during the 2021 regular season and playoffs, he once again served as a five-unit special teamer. King saw regular action on both kickoff and punt coverage, as well as the two return squads. He furthermore was used on the field goal and extra point blocking units as well. When all was said and done, the veteran had been on the field for 322 of a possible 464 special teams snaps. His 69.4 percent playing time share was the fourth highest on the team.
King did not just see the field on a regular basis, he also was a productive member of New England’s special teams group. He finished the season with a combined 11 tackles in the game’s third phase; only Cody Davis (15) and Matthew Slater (13) had more. While the unit as a whole had its issues during the season — it surrendered four blocked kicks, for example — King was a consistent performer who did not appear to be hampered by the medical issues that forced him to miss back-to-back seasons.
His 2021 campaign also saw him play the first defensive snaps of his career. While he had seen some action as a box safety/linebacker hybrid in preseason, the Patriots never used him in that capacity in a regular season or playoff game — until October 24 of last year: with New England blowing out the New York Jets 54-13, they decided to give King two fourth-quarter snaps as a box linebacker. He did not register any statistics, though.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? King joined the Patriots on a three-year rookie free agent deal, and later signed both an exclusive-rights tender and a restricted free agency tender. The latter gave way to a two-year, $2.6 million contract extension. King signed another two-year extension (worth $3.6 million) the following year. His total contractual career earnings are therefore estimated at $7.3 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? King’s value to the NFL is due to his special teams prowess rather than his outlook on defense. Accordingly, nearly every team in the league might be a candidate to bring him aboard: there are few special teamers in football with the same combination of experience and individual success. That does not mean that King will receive 32 offers during the legal tampering period, but that he might just enter an active market.
Why should he be expected back? The Patriots kicking game group as a whole had its fair share of issues in 2021, but King was the least of the club’s problems. His ability to play good football after two years on the sidelines speaks for his qualities as a player, and what he can still offer to New England: leadership both on and off the field, as well as productivity in five different phases of special teams play — all at a relatively low cost.
Why should he be expected to leave? Even though King is among the better special teamers in the NFL, they are a dime a dozen in a way. If the 28-year-old prices himself out of New England’s range, it would therefore not be a surprise to see the club go in a different direction. Furthermore, King offers little value beyond his kicking game contributions.
What is his projected free agency outcome? King has spent his entire career in New England, and it would not be a surprise if he continues to wear the team’s colors in 2022 and beyond. The Patriots’ special teams unit is better off with him, and keeping him in the fold might help the unit rebound from a tough 2021 campaign. King returning on a two-year pact similar to the last one he signed — i.e. at a total value of around $3.5 million — would therefore appear to be a good outcome for both parties.
Will the Patriots re-sign Brandon King?
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