Sam Shields should be the #1 priority for the Green Bay Packers this offseason. I understand the arguments against this. First of all, the Packers are deep and talented at the cornerback position. But Ross, you ask: “If the Packers are so deep and talented at CB why are there always so many big passing games given up to opponents every season?” Because despite ranking in the top 10 in the league in sacks the Packers were abysmal this season at getting pressure on the QB. Mike Daniels, a part time player, led the team with 31 pressures, which is the lowest from a team leader since the immortal John Theirry in the year 2000. Also the safety play was just God awful. The Packers, when healthy, are truly 5 deep with players above replacement level players at the CB position. If Shields were to leave The Packers would still have Tramon Williams (on a reduced salary) and Davon House outside with very capable (not to mention young and cheap) slot men Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde.
The second big argument against him is that Drew Rosenhaus is his agent. The Packers do not have a very good relationship with Rosenhaus and his antics led to the Mike McKenzie debacle of 2004. Having a talented cornerback represented by Rosenhaus have a contract issue is not exactly an exciting prospect for Ted Thompson and his negotiator Russ Ball. Chances are Shields is going to be paid very well by whichever team gives him a new deal, regardless of whether or not it is in Green Bay. The Packers, mostly due to Thompson’s stewardship have avoided cap hell and are actually in a very good financial situations, but have contracts that need to get done for Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson very soon. With the depth at corner and the aversion that this team will (and should) have to letting Aaron Rodgers’ two favorite weapons walk, money is actually kinda tight.
The final argument against Shields is the case for re-signing Packers DT BJ Raji. This argument is based on two different Ted Thompson philosophies. Thompson believes, and I agree, that the good Lord only made so many good athletes that can operate at 6’2″ 340 lbs. If Raji is allowed to walk, regardless of what you think of him and his perceived lack of production in this defense, the chances are that his replacement, unless it’s another veteran FA or a 1st round pick is going to be a significantly worse player. The other aspect of letting BJ Raji walk that would disagree with Ted Thompson’s philosphies is the fact that Raji is the second highest draft choice Thompson’s ever made (9th overall). If he allows him out of Green Bay without so much as a second contract after his rookie deal Raji’s time here has to be seen as at least a little bit of a failure.
I understand and appreciate all of these arguments, but that doesn’t change my stance that Sam Shields should be the number one priority for the Green Bay Packers this offseason. Sam Shields has the potential to be a top 8, outside, shutdown corner in the NFL, and no matter how highly you think of Casey Hayward after his rookie season he’s the only guy like that the Packers have a reasonable chance to acquire for the next 4 or 5 seasons. Elite cover corners are hard to find and even harder to identify. The current holder of the cornerback “title belt” is probably Richard Sherman, a 5th round pick in 2011. His predecessor, Darrelle Revis was a high selection, but Nnamdi Asomugah, the best CB in football before that, was the 4th CB taken in his draft class. Highly drafted corners like Terrance Newman, Morris Claiborne, Kareem Jackson and Leodis McKelvin flop all the time. Shields is a known commodity at the CB position and with star receivers like Megatron, Jeffery, Marshall, and maybe even Cordarelle Patterson (if he learns how to run routes and the Vikings get a QB) a #1 corner is a must have.
There should still be excitement around Sam Shields. The only reason that he wasn’t drafted (and drafted highly) is because he didn’t play cornerback in college. Shields was a wide receiver for most of his time at the University of Miami. He is literally still learning the nuances of playing the position. He has prototypical size for a corner (5’11″/185) and also has something that cannot be taught, learner or manufactured. That is team-leading 4.24-4.35 speed. Shields is very, very fast. That truly elite and unteachable talent not only allows Shields to take chances, but also to make mistakes. If he ever does master the nuances of the position, he could be truly special, and showed flashes of that this season. For part of the year, instead of playing right and left corners, Shields was matchup up on the opponent’s #1 receiver, limiting stars AJ Green and Josh Gordon to just 4 for 46 and 2 for 21, respectively.
In this league the way it is officiated now, there are 4 major positions that need to have lots of resources put in to them: passer, pass rusher, pass protector and pass defender. The Patriots and Broncos are clear examples of this. The 49ers and Seahawks are able to get away with paying RBs and other non-essential positions a lot of money because they are paying their good young QBs (and Richard Sherman) almost nothing. That won’t last forever. The Packers have the best (and most highly compensated) passer in football. Their best pass rusher is also the most highly compensated player at his position. They have invested 2 first round picks in the last 4 seasons on pass protectors. An elite pass defender, something that Sam Shields almost is and most likely will become is not something that the Packers should cheap out on now.
Ted Thompson has truly built something special here in Green Bay. The Packers have won 3 straight division titles following a Super Bowl Championship in which they were a wild card team tied for the best record in the division. They have made 5 straight playoff appearances, the only NFC team that can claim that. There are 46 of the 50 players on the Packers that have never been on another team that have never NOT been in the playoffs. These kind of accomplishments and sustained success are not possible without an eye on the financial bottom line. With that said, Ted, you must pony up and pay Sam Shields.