The Green Bay Packers announced on Monday that they have reached an agreement to bring back defensive back and return specialist Keisean Nixon on a one-year deal that can be worth up to $6 million.
Nixon joined the Packers last season after spending the previous three years with the Raiders. He took less money to sign with Green Bay after the Packers added former Raiders special teams coordinator and interim head coach Rich Bisaccia to their coaching staff.
In 2022, Nixon had a large impact on Green Bay’s long neglected special teams units. He started the season as a core member of the coverage units. In the second half of the year, he took over as the team’s primary return specialist after Amari Rodgers continued to struggle to catch the ball consistently and failed to produce much as a kick and punt returner.
Even though Nixon didn’t take over as the team’s primary kick return specialist until Week 8, Nixon earned All Pro honors after returning kicks for 1,009 yards and averaging 28.8 yards per runback. He also scored the first touchdown on a return for the Packers since Randall Cobb ran one back in Week 1 of the 2011 season. Nixon finished the season with five kick returns of 50 yards or more which led the NFL.
When Nixon took over as the return specialist, the inconsistent Green Bay offense benefitted from getting better field position. The result was the team’s most productive offensive games of the season and Nixon was one of the catalysts.
Even quarterback Aaron Rodgers was impressed with what Nixon’s returns added to the team. “In all my 18 years, I’ve never once until tonight seen an opposing team’s kicker kick away from one of our returners. On purpose. That’s fun. That’s pretty incredible,” Rodgers said after the Packers win over the Rams in December.
Nixon also took over as the team’s punt returner in Week 10. He averaged 12.7-yards per punt return on 11 attempts. Like on kick returns, Nixon was decisive, daring and used his speed to take the yards that were available to him.
The former South Carolina star was also a contributor on defense last season. He gave the team depth in the secondary and later was used to cover receivers in the slot. His speed and cutting ability helped him in that area.
Nixon played 289 snaps on defense which equaled 28 percent of the team’s snaps when he was in the lineup. According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks completed 69 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Nixon last season and had a quarterback rating of 85.7.
For the season, Nixon was credited with 23 total tackles, two passes broken up and one forced fumble. He also intercepted his first career pass in the NFL which came off Justin Fields of the Bears in Week 13.
The fact that the deal is worth a maximum of $6 million indicates the Packers are likely expecting Nixon to play a bigger role on defense in 2023 than he did in his first year with the team.
While it is great for the Packers to re-sign Nixon, who was considered the top priority among potential departing free agents by many, there are downsides to the deal. The maximum payout of $6 million is higher than expected for Nixon and one a one-year deal, there is no way to lower the cap hit. The structure of the deal has yet to be announced although details should shed more light on that shortly.
The other factor is this is another one-year deal. While Nixon is going to make a lot more money in 2023 than he did in 2022, there is no long-term commitment and he will be an unrestricted free agent again next offseason unless GM Brian Gutekunst signs him to a new contract at some point before then. Of course, this could happen during the season if the Packers organization is satisfied with the Nixon’s play.
The Packers were able to re-sign one important potential free agent before he hit the open market. Of course, the big decision by Aaron Rodgers will ultimately determine exactly how much cap room the Packers have once free agency officially gets under way on Wednesday. While the Packers won’t likely make a large splash in free agency, how much they can and are willing to do and who they prioritize to bring back will in part be determined by Rodgers’ decision.
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