This will come across as pouting and before we get into Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields in free agency, I have to say that I really wish I were still writing about a Packers team who was preparing for their next playoff game. Such is life.
So what about Shields? Well, last year Shields was a restricted free agent and the Packers placed a second round tender on him, meaning that if Shields negotiated a deal with another team and Green Bay chose not to match it, the receiving team would have owed the Packers a second round draft choice.
At the time that the Packers were gathering for training camp and there was talk that he might hold out if he was not given a long-term deal. Shields’ agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who is no stranger to a holdout, an interview or an attempt to pan for the camera. Shields eventually signed his tender with the Packers and played out his one-year, $2.023 million deal this season.
A likely motivator for Shields to get signed and into camp was that there was expected to be competition at the cornerback position. Shields missed significant time in 2012 due to an ankle injury suffered early in the season but returned late in the year to help the Packers earn another division title.
Shields also had an interception for a touchdown early in the divisional round playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Still, looming over Shields’ shoulder were cornerbacks Casey Hayward, Davon House and rookie Micah Hyde.
Shields kept his starting spot and had a stellar 2013 season, tallying 61 tackles, 17 passes defensed and had four interceptions in just 14 games.
Two of Shields’ interceptions will not soon be forgotten. The first was a game-saver late in the win against the Dallas Cowboys on a play that, had Shields not made, likely would have gone for a touchdown and prevented the Packers from winning that game. The second was the last play of Green Bay’s week 17 win over the Chicago Bears to seal the division title. Shields intercepted a Jay Cutler Hail Mary pass that somehow failed to make it to the end zone.
Heading into last weekend’s playoff game, Shields was in prime position for a lucrative new contract, whether with the Packers or someone else. Early in that wild card matchup against the 49ers, Shields suffered a leg injury and needed help off the field. He was carted back to the locker room and there were concerns over the nature and severity of the injury. Shields and Rosenhaus likely breathed a huge sigh of relief when a MRI revealed a bone bruise and no ligament damage.
Many Packers fans likely also breathed that same sigh of relief and are hopeful that the Packers make Shields one of their top priorities to re-sign during this offseason. I mentioned that Shields is in line for a lucrative deal, but what will that deal look like?
Consider that the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL is Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis at an average of $16 million per season, although none of that money is guaranteed. The 10th highest-paid cornerback is Green Bay’s own Tramon Williams. Williams current deal is for $33 million with $10.9 million guaranteed. It averages about $8.25 million per season. After this season, it’s fair to say that Shields falls in between Revis and Williams and closer to the Williams side of the equation.
Shields just turned 26 in December so he has some years left. He will likely be looking for something long term in the four to five year range and at least $10 million per season, if you base it on what Williams currently has. There is a possibility that the team may ask Williams to take a pay cut or restructure his deal in order to re-sign some of their current free agents, but that is not a given. If the Packers can re-work Williams’ deal, they may be able to offer Shields a deal similar to what Williams has now.
The Packers 2013 salary cap was $122 million and they currently have around $9.5 million in space to work with. But with several other free agent contracts set to expire, the Packers could free up another $9 million in additional space. They would be in a position to make a decent offer to Shields, if they wanted to. The question is, do they?
Shields emerged as the most reliable defensive back for the Packers this season and often blanketed the opposition’s best outside receiver. He has the best ball skills of any other Packers defender, which is no surprise as Shields was a wide receiver in college. One thing that the Packers lacked this season was play makers on defense. Shields is one and will continue to be one for a few more years. Can the Packers afford to let him go and hope that one of Hayward, House or Hyde can replace that production?
That’s a tricky question because it relies on predicting how Hayward will bounce back after a lost 2013 season due to a hamstring injury. And can he be effective outside versus in the slot, where he played so well last season? Hyde nearly had a game and season-saving interception against the 49ers in last week’s wild card playoff game and flashed some good abilities throughout this past season. Still, Hyde is young and has some developing to do. I wouldn’t put him at Shields’ level at all. House came on relief of Shields in the playoff game and did OK when you consider that the officials were letting both sides play. Otherwise, House is merely depth at cornerback.
Shields is a known entity and he also knows the defensive system. The system may change but as previously mentioned, Shields is a playmaker and those are hard to come by at all, let alone on the Green Bay defense. Matt Stein of Bleacher Report seems to agree and writes a nice piece on the Packers salary cap situation and what to do with their upcoming free agents. Shields is top priority on his list.
Stein also reminds us that in addition to those Packers players who are soon-to-be free agents, there are also a few key contracts set to expire at the end of next season. Namely receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. The team could use some of this year’s cap space to extend one or both during this offseason and take some of the heat off of next year. That could further complicate the Packers’ ability to get a deal done for Shields.
However they make it work, they need to bring Shields back. It’s what Vice President of Football Administration/Player Finance Russ Ball gets paid to do: make it work!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: