Generally speaking, when an All-Pro player is healthy, they’re employed in today’s NFL. For whatever reason, that isn’t the case for Marquette King, who is healthy, available, and ready to contribute for an NFL franchise. The former second team All-Pro punter, oozing with personality and ability, last played in the NFL for the Denver Broncos in 2018. He has a resume full of accolades, and is ready and deserving of another shot.
King has the 19th highest single-season yards-per-punt average in NFL history with 48.9, something he posted in 2013 with the Oakland Raiders, leading the league that year. He was 2nd-team All-Pro in 2016 after again posting a season north of 48 yards per punt — there were only five punters in the NFL last year to accomplish that. King followed that up with a 47.4 average in 2017.
He was one of the best punters in the game, marrying his passion and excitement with his pure talent, making him a fan favorite. Football is supposed to be fun, and with King on the field, it always was. Rarely is a punter must-see TV, but King undoubtedly was just that.
“It was just me being myself,” he said. “I’ve always been the type to celebrate. We stay at the facility all day, and you work so hard to accomplish a certain goal in the game and contribute to the team, and when it happens in a game, where it really makes a difference, and it really matters — it’s just a really good feeling. I’ve always celebrated, even in 2012 in my first game. Some coaches and teams probably didn’t like it, but at the same time, we’re playing a kid’s game. I feel like to play the game, you should enjoy it. You should enjoy your job.”
Despite his flash and his personality, paired with his game-changing ability and durability — he didn’t miss a game in five years — he was inexplicably cut after the 2017 season.
Following his release in Oakland, he signed with division-rival Denver heading into the 2018 season. After signing with the Broncos, however, he was asked to change his punting technique.
“So, before we even set up a contract, I was like ‘I’m at an advantage here [in Denver] because of the altitude. That’d be legendary, because field position would be so easy to set up there,’” King said. “I get there, talk to [John] Elway, sign a contract — and the contract was set up at $2 million per year, and if I was to make Pro Bowl or All-Pro in those two years, I would get an extra million on that third year. I go there, and the first day of practice, [special teams coordinator Tom McMahon] wants to change my whole kicking style.”
It didn’t make any sense to King. Why change the technique of one of the league’s best punters?
“At first when I was brought in, they were saying they wanted me to do what I did in Oakland, then I go there and everything’s changed,” King said.
“I didn’t agree with that, but I was starting to correct stuff I really didn’t need to correct, but I was just doing it to keep my job, and it was the most embarrassing thing ever,” King continued. “When you play your skill position, you want to do repetitively the same thing every time, right? It’s almost like telling Tiger Woods to do a different golf swing and then go try to play a whole golf game. I was in practice hitting those weird punts that he wanted me to hit, and the punt returners would be down at the end of the field like ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I was so embarrassed, it was the most embarrassing moment ever. When your teammates are looking at you like something’s wrong with you, that’s a bad feeling.”
In the first game of the 2018 season against Seattle, King recounted watching new Seahawks punter Michael Dickerson, and the reaction of his head coach Vance Joseph.
“Dickerson was blasting the hell out of the ball. He booted one of those punts so far to get the team inside the 20 from a long way away, and I heard [Joseph] on the sideline like, ‘shit.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘You know I can do the same thing, but you all have me doing this weird kicking thing, right?”
The change in kicking technique led to a down year statistically, as well as strain on his body. He was injured in a Week 4 tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs, landing him on injured reserve. The Broncos released him five weeks later.
“The more I kept doing that new technique, I kept tearing my abductor. We played against the Chiefs, and I got smacked on the sideline, and it was done, man. So I got let go.”
After his release, the phone never rang. No other NFL opportunities came his way. He worked his way back to full health, then signed on with the short-lived XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks, where he was given the opportunity to play in 2020 — and kick — the way he wanted to, until the league folded as COVID-19 did the league in. He posted a healthy 45.7 yards per punt, showcasing his ability and health, while trying to work his way back to the NFL.
“I started hearing rumors like, ‘We don’t think he still has it,” and ‘XFL, XFL…’ and now it’s like, I’m still waiting to get on a team, and this is weird. I just think it’s interesting to see guys with a 45 [-yard] punt average still getting credit as an All-Pro. I’ve seen guys not perform at their best and are still getting picked up by teams, and it’s very interesting to me,” King said. “Since I’ve been in the league, they’ve always preached that it’s a ‘performance-based’ business, and if they want the best of the best… I’m like, ‘Man, OK, so what is it now?’ I’m just trying to figure out why I’m not getting picked up if it’s the league of the best of the best, and I’m the best at what I do — everybody’s good at what they do, but I just know, I put in the work and my stats speak for themselves.”
King got close to finding a new NFL home last November, just before Thanksgiving. Dallas Cowboys starting punter Chris Jones had to have core muscle surgery, sidelining him for multiple games.
“Before Thanksgiving I thought I was going to land with the Cowboys,” said King. “I had a very good workout, and I thought they were going to keep me. I came into the house and they told me not to do anything because they were planning on bringing me back to play Thanksgiving and the next Sunday, and then they never called back.”
It’s been a frustrating and mentally challenging couple years for Marquette King, who did nothing but produce at the highest level in his time in the NFL. Over the years, he built a relationship with the first Black punter in NFL history, Greg Coleman, who has helped him get through this period in his life as he continues to train and stay ready for that phone call.
“I talk to him all the time, he’s like a mentor to me. He doesn’t understand why I’m in the position I’m in either,” said King. “He helps me take my mind off how I feel about football. He helps keep my spirits up. He knows my situation isn’t right, but he tells me to just keep going, because he believes something can still happen.”
King is one of only five Black punters to have played in NFL history, putting him in unnecessarily exclusive company. Maybe he doesn’t look, or act, or sound the way NFL franchises want their punters to. Maybe his celebrations and his passion are too much for some people. But in a performance-based league, the fact that a punter of his talent, whose career punting average (46.7), even including his 2018 season in Denver, would have been good enough for 9th-best in the NFL last season, is sitting at home at 32 years old — when 13 punters played in the league last year at or above 30 years old — is entirely inexcusable.
“I could play an NFL game right now. I was kicking three days ago, doing 60-yard punts with 5.0-plus [second] hang times.”
Searching for answers that he isn’t receiving, Marquette King not only belongs in the NFL, but he could be a game-changing difference maker for whatever franchise picks up the phone and brings him in for a workout. Just give him the chance — he’ll be happy to show you that he’s one of the best, just like he always has.