Ted Thompson likely got done with his top priority this offseason when he resigned cornerback Sam Shields to a 4 year deal worth a total of $39 million. At the time, reactions were rather mixed; many national writers who don’t cover the Packers specifically probably didn’t know too much about Shields and as a result many were taken aback by the size of the contract. Few writers even predicted that it would set the pace for free agent signings, and contracts were going to be sizably bigger than previous years; so far this has yet to pan out and likely won’t.
For Packers beat writers, the response was a lot more subdued, while Shields did receive a hefty contract, there were times where Shields was obviously the best cornerback on the team and considering Ted Thompson almost never gets suckered in free agency (mostly because you can’t lose when you don’t play), Packers beat writers just assumed that Thompson likely got good value for a player who had other options.
So how much did the Packers really “overpay” for Shields? Now that free agency is fully underway, I’ve compiled a list of the top free agent cornerback additions and compared the contracts they received with that the contract Shields received. PFF 3 stands for the 3 year average of that player’s grades from ProFootballFocus while PFF+ is the best season that player recorded in the last 3 years. Before we start, I’ve intentionally left out perhaps the biggest free agent cornerback, Darrelle Revis, who was recently cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and signed by the New England Patriots 4 hours later with a 1 year $12 million deal with a purported $10 million guaranteed.
My primary reason for leaving Revis out is his contract demands and penchant for holding out are well known and therefore his contracts have always been unusual for a cornerback, starting from holding out as a rookie to get a bigger contract than his draft slot, holding out again with multiple years left on his rookie contract, and of course the bizarre contract he signed with the Buccaneers which netted him $16 million yearly but with 0 guaranteed money. Simply put every once in a while there is a player that defies convention and logic and teams typically disregard these contracts when trying to establish fair value; Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Tony Romo’s contracts are prime examples of contracts gone awry and not actual market value of a player.
Just by looking the raw numbers Sam Shields’ contract definitely is on the high end but not an outlier; Shields, Brent Grimes and Vontae Davis all got a 4 year, $32 million contract, while Alterraun Verner looks to have gotten a deal lower than his value. Verner’s contract is a little odd but considering he’s not very well known, always plays one side of the field and therefore often doesn’t cover the best receiver and has a very specific skill set that doesn’t work well with all defenses the low value is justifiable, though likely Verner should have made more money. Both Shields and Davis are 26 so these contracts are likely projecting forwards while Grimes’ contract is likely more betting that his level of play will continue for the life of the contract.
While Grimes has been the most consistent and productive of the group he got a smaller deal likely because he’s already 31 and it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to continue his high level of play. Aqib Talib really is the outlier of the group, landing a massive deal but also one that will keep him as a Bronco until he’s 34, which is interesting considering that cornerbacks only have a longer shelf life than running backs. Talib’s PFF scores are also an aberration based taken in context of the contract he signed because of a falling out with Tampa Bay and presumably some poor play while he adjusted to the Patriots defensive scheme; of course Talib’s off the field issues as well as issues with former head coach Greg Schiano are flags of their own and the Broncos likely overpaid dearly for his services.
While the total value of is often the most heralded point in a contract, the guaranteed portion is really the most important. Take for example Aqib Talib’s contract; taken in the context of the Broncos’ recent signings of Demarcus Ware and TJ Ward points to the fact that the Broncos are stocking up for now to win now for one “last hurrah” for Peyton Manning and it will be almost fiscally impossible for the Broncos to honor the entire length of any of these contracts, likely meaning Talib will be cut before the end of his contract. Therefore, Talib is likely more concerned about the guaranteed portion.
In fact its the guaranteed portion of the contract where the Packers won the biggest battle, no other cornerback made less guaranteed money this offseason than Shields; Vontae Davis and Shields are the same age, have almost identical PFF statistics, and the same total contract value and length but Davis made $7.5 million more in guarantees, meaning Davis can sleep easier at night knowing he will definitely be making around $2 million more per year than Shields even if both were cut tomorrow.
I think this really highlights the value that the Packers got; while overall the Packers are overpaying Shields based on his performance from the last 3 years (which includes a dreadful 2011 season), the Packers also have the most flexibility since the guaranteed portion is the lowest. Taken in another perspective, if 2011 was just a poor season for the entire defense (and it was historically bad for those who don’t remember) and 2012 is a better indication of Shields’ actual play, then the Packers got the best deal in the cornerback market, considering Shields has the second lowest total contract over average PFF score to Brent Grimes, who again is unlikely to match his play from the last 3 years at age 31.
If on the other hand, 2011 is a better indication, that’s not a problem as well since the Packers can cut Shields with less penalty than any other team due to the low guaranteed portion. Also keep in mind that in the coming future the Packers hold the leverage if they want to ask Shields to take a pay cut/restructure; Shields has to consider it since 60% of his salary is not guaranteed compared 16% for Darrelle Revis (essentially Revis doesn’t have to listen to taking a pay cut since the threat of getting cut outright only loses him $2 million)
Overall I think this is a good contract for both sides, it pays Sam Shields like a premier cornerback but gives the Packers the ability to cut their losses should Shields fail to live up to his contract. At best, the Packers are paying roughly market value for an elite cornerback, if he ends up being just average they have the leverage to reduce his contract and if he’s a complete bust then they have the flexibility to cut him without incurring too much dead money down the road. This is ultimately one of the reason’s why the Packers have been such a good franchise over the years, while players and coaches often get the majority of the credit, its fair business dealing with level headed financial planning that allows the Packers to be contenders year after year.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.