The offseason has already been busy in Green Bay. Two mainstays for the last seven years have been let go: Sam Shields and James Starks.
Both cuts have been newsworthy, but not shocking. Starks has struggled to stay on the field throughout his career. Shields has always shown All-Pro potential, but has struggled to stay on the field in the past couple of years as well.
The common denominator, as most know, has been injuries. Shields has been on the unfortunate end of head trauma over the years. Starks encountered a very unfortunate head injury in a vehicle accident that ended his 2016 campaign.
Both men, unquestionably, have been integral parts to the Packers’ success in recent memory, and deservedly so. Shields has arguably been the best undrafted free agent in the NFL during the 2010s. He burst onto the scene in his rookie season in 2010, with a memorable interception to clinch the team’s Super Bowl berth against the Bears in the NFC Championship.
Starks turned out to be the 2010 roster’s best kept secret during their championship campaign. He powered the team’s running game en route to their 4th Lombardi trophy. Since the title, he has proven to be a versatile option for the team. Though never hitting an elite level, Starks was a solid back when on the field over the past seven years. His upright-running style and ability to run, catch, and block were talents any team will take.
In 2016 especially, Shields was sorely missed. A rare gift that he brought was his ability to adjust and snag a ball, likely developed from his earlier days playing wide receiver. His speed was certainly another contributor to his success. Shields’s experience and ability to cover the top WRs of opposing teams could have been crucial for the playoff run. When Casey Hayward was let go after 2015, it was done with the plan that Shields would cover the big dogs while the younger defensive backs gained experience and learned from a top tier veteran.
Instead, the young Packers corners were tossed into the fire against world-class receivers on a weekly basis, and while battling injuries. Perhaps the biggest offseason story is how the secondary rebounds from an abysmal year. Will they rebound from a collective Sophomore slump? Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall do have the talent to rebound. Their draft positions demand that be the case. Packer Nation desperately wants such a rebound. A defensive scheme that focuses on covering the middle of the field would also help, but that is a discussion for another day (stay tuned.)
Overall, Shields and Starks have certainly earned their keep as Packers. Both were crucial contributors to a championship run. Both contributed to sustained success over several years. Though neither names will be unveiled in the inner ring of Lambeau, they have cemented legacies that deserve to be remembered. Let’s wish the best for both. Cheers to Sam and James, and may your post-Packers lives be fruitful and happy for you and your families.