Sam Shields wasn’t the first, second, third, or fourth-best impending free agent corner, and yet the Green Bay Packers decided to re-sign him to the tune of a four-year, $39 million contract. Vontae Davis, Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie need to thank the Packers profusely for agreeing with Shields to those terms, because that bloats their value on the open market and prevents them from facing a buyer’s market situation like last year. Talib knows just how dry the free agent market was last offseason for corners, but it looks like more cap room league-wide and Shields’s big contract will prevent this year’s deep crop of CBs from meeting the same fate as last year’s group.
There’s no doubt that Shields has the potential to be an elite player, and he would have to fulfill that potential in order for the Packers contract to be justifiable. $9.75 million per year is an awful lot of money, no matter how you spell it. Shields’s contract will take the 26-year-old Miami product through his prime, and that prime could easily be one filled with gaudy stats and All-Pro accolades. However, the Packers are clearly gambling on Shields here, because it could also be a period filled with blown assignments and big catches allowed downfield.
We know that Shields has talent, because he showed off that talent in 2012 and in spurts in 2013. But the keyword there is “spurts”, because he didn’t consistently play at a high level last year. In fact, he was quite mediocre last season, even if he did defend 17 passes. Because while Shields did make plays (refer two his two plays in the end zone against Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving), he also gave up plenty of plays. He’s rightfully drawn the ire of Packers fans for his subpar tackling, and his run defense is woeful- and that’s putting it kindly.
It can even be argued that Verner, Davis, Miami Dolphins re-signed impending FA Brent Grimes, Talib, Rodgers-Cromartie, and second-tier options Tarell Brown and Walter Thurmond had significantly better seasons than Shields did last season. All but four of those players lack Shields’s upside, but it’s interesting to see that the No. 5 corner on the market received $9.75 million per year without even hitting the open market. So there was no bidding war, and yet the Packers decided to give him that kind of money.
I hate to criticize somebody as good as his job as Ted Thompson, but this reeks of poor managing to me. It’s not that Shields is bad or anything, and it goes beyond the fact that he isn’t worth $9.75 million due to the risk involved. No, it’s the fact that Thompson and the Packers essentially succumbed to Shields’s sky-high asking price, which was only expected to be around $7-8 million per year, before he tested the open market. Maybe they saw that other teams were willing to offer him just as much money based on conversations during the legal tampering period, but I doubt that’s true. And even if it were true, it’s a pretty poor excuse, because the Packers could simply say, “Heck no, let’s get someone else for less.” At the same time, I wonder if the Packers got the sense that Davis, DRC, and Talib would all re-sign, which would only increase Shields’s value.
As it stands right now, the Packers still have an abundant amount of cap space, so giving Shields huge money and gambling on his physical tools shouldn’t curtail their ability to make upgrades in the front seven and at safety (that’s the biggest one) this offseason (it should be noted that they will also look to extend Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb). Thompson will likely buck his trend of staying quiet in free agency, though nobody should expect the Packers to go out on a spending spree. Even though the Packers are always willing to pay their own guys big money, I often wonder if they overvalue their own players when re-signing them.
I’m looking at the list on Over the Cap of the cornerbacks who currently make the most money, and it’s interesting to see that Shields is tied with three other players for the fourth-highest amount of money paid per year. But the most interesting thing to note is that Thompson’s gamble might be less risky than Shields’s per-year total dictates, because he is making less guaranteed money per year than all the CBs except for Brandon Flowers. So if Shields doesn’t make the jump, then they have enough wiggle room to cut him.
The deal is more palatable than it seems at first glance, especially considering Shields’s age and raw tools. But would you really pay him $9.75 million per year? Especially with other top-notch impending free agent corners on the open market? It looks like Thompson believes that’s the case, and I wonder if Shields’s deal is a precursor for what is to come for the other impending free agent corners.
I don’t think he deserves the amount of money he will be paid per year, but the Packers were wise to give him a smaller signing bonus than what most top free agent CBs get. I’m not a fan of this deal overall, but it’s possible that we could look at this deal in a much more positive light if other CBs re-sign. Of course, Shields’s deal might make it more difficult for those other teams to re-sign their players, since they will look to his contract and say, “Wait, I’m better so why can’t I make that kind of money in this year’s cap-rich offseason?”