When it came out that Sam Shields was seeking a deal similar to the one that Tim Jennings got from the Bears (4/$22.4) I was one of many telling the Packers to run to Drew Rosenhaus and draw up the papers. That kind of contract and the guaranteed money that comes with it was more than fair for an ascending player like Shields. I identified Shields as priority #1 immediately this offseasn, and my opinion did not change. What did change was the money.
Shields was signed to a 4 year $39 million dollar deal on Saturday. While those Tim Jennings numbers sure look attractive now, this is not an overpay. I understand that according to Pro Football Focus Shields was pretty average last season. I saw Peter King call him “pedestrian”. I even read the ramblings our our resident madman, CD Angeli. I appreciated some of the things that CD said. My favorite take is that Shields was a key contributor to a defense that is “entirely broken”. This is a fact, but as I pointed out in my piece, this really isn’t the fault of the cornerback group, it’s just not. No matter what your opinion on Shields is, letting him walk and having to either start Davon House in his place or use an early pick on the cornerback position is not a wise allocation of assets.
The good news, as I’m about to explain is that money is different now. It’s not worth quite as much. I’m sure $8 bucks will still get Sam a cup of Starbucks coffee but for the Packers, giving Sam $9.75 million annually is not what it once was. As Turtle so eloquently put it in the HBO series Entourage, money’s real cheap these days. The NFL can do now wrong right now financially. Despite Commissioner Goodell’s attempts to neuter the game and infuriate the fans, revenues continue to increase. Staduims are sold out, merchandise flies off the shelves and TV rights are sold for Matchbox 20 money. This increase in revenue, along with other factors has resulted in an increase in the cap this season from $123 million to $133 million. The cap could spike to $145 million in 2015 and a possibly $160 million in 2016.
What does this all mean? Well it’s simple economics that makes the Shields contract fair, the Burnett contract less of an albatross and the Rodgers and Matthews contracts flat out bargains. In an NFL world where the salary cap is $123 million dollars, Sam Shields average annual salary (his deal is back loaded, not even throughout) is worth about 7.9% of the team’s cap. That’s a pretty significant chunk of money for a player that isn’t considered to be a Pro Bowl caliber contributor right now. However in 2016, the 3rd year of Shields’ deal, $9.75 million would theoretically only be about 6% of the team’s cap. While that may seem insignificant it most certainly is not.
Aaron Rodgers, who I consider to be the NFL’s best player, accepted a very front-loaded deal last season. Even his blockbuster contract looks manageable under this expanding salary cap. His hits in the next 3 seasons are $17.9, $18.6, and $19.6 million, which will only take up 13.5%, 12.8%, and 12.3% of the salary cap respectively. Once you understand that the Packers are not privately owned and this money comes out of a business that in this NFL economy and with this level of team popularity will always run in the black, you understand that this is monopoly money. The dollars are really only reflective of the percent of the salary cap that they take up that allow (or don’t allow) players to be retained and outside players to be brought in.
In this brave new world in which Everson Griffen, who has 17 career sacks in 4 seasons and played less than 60% of snaps for the league’s worst scoring defense, is worth 5 years and $42.5 million how much is Aaron Rodgers worth? 6 years $180 million? 7 years $200 million? Seriously. The facts are that Shields deal is not ridiculous and we should be thankful that Rodgers and Matthews got locked up on deals that reflected the market that existed last season before the revenue from the new TV deals came through.
I’m not saying that Ted Thompson is a semi-robotic super genius that saw all of this coming and locked up his two franchise cornerstones into fantastically team-friendly deals just in the nick of time. But I’m not not saying it either.