Focus Shifts to Defensive Line

Yesterday, the Green Bay Packers signed cornerback Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million contract to help solidify their secondary.

It may seem like an overpay based on what Shields has done so far, but it was necessary, and the contract was designed very nicely by general manager Ted Thompson. Shields, 26, is still an ascending player at a premium position. He did a great job shadowing the number one wide receiver of opposing teams last season, and a player who can do that is just so hard to find.

Free agency is about what a player can do for you in the future and not about what he has done. Shields’ elite speed and wide receiver ball skills will not be going away. He may not be an elite corner yet, but he is right on the cusp of that. The Packers have one of the best cornerback groups in the NFL with Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Heyward, Davon House and Micah Hyde.

With Shields’ contract out of the way, the Packers can now focus on rebuilding the rest of their defense. Keeping Shields only ensures that the defense will not get worse. Even after the signing, the Packers have about $28 million in cap space available to use this offseason.

The Packers still have huge holes at safety, inside linebacker and along the defensive line. It sounds as though rebuilding the defensive line is their next goal.

The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that the Packers are among the teams interested in defensive end Lamarr Houston. Also, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the Packers have expressed interest in defensive end Arthur Jones.

This makes sense because the Packers have invested so much money into their secondary already. The total cap hit for 2014 for Shields, Williams and safety Morgan Burnett is about $19.9 million. So, I would expect the Packers to look towards a lower tier free agent or the draft to fill their safety need and not pursue guys like Jarius Byrd, T.J. Ward or Donte Whitner.

Houston and Jones are two of the best free agents available on the defensive line and will certainly not come cheap. Signing either one would reflect a huge change in Thompson’s draft and develop philosophy, so we will see how strong their “interest” in these players really is. Although, just the fact that the Packers are being linked to these players at all may indicate that Thompson is serious about free agency this offseason.

Houston is ranked as the 19th best free agent in this class by Pro Football Focus and Jones is ranked 27th. Houston had six sacks, 27 hurries and a 11.4 PFF rating last season for the Oakland Raiders. He is exactly the 300-pound athlete that Thompson is looking for along the defensive line.

Jones had four sacks and a 15.7 rating from PFF for the Baltimore Ravens last season.  He is an excellent run defender who can make plays all across the line of scrimmage, but he can improve his pass rush.

Signing either player and re-signing B.J. Raji or Ryan Pickett would give the Packers a defensive line of Houston or Jones, Raji or Pickett and either Datone Jones or Mike Daniels in base. Houston would slide inside in nickel with Daniels most of the time, while Jones really only played base in Baltimore, which might make Houston the more attractive player. This would be a very good defensive line rotation.

So, signing Shields is a very good start to free agency for the Packers, but it is only the beginning. Signing either Houston or Jones would be a huge next step for the defense. Of course, we have no idea just how interested Thompson is in either player, so this could just be all for nothing.

 

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Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.

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