Of the many positions of need on the Packers' roster, the most puzzling might be cornerback. On the one hand, you have Tramon Williams, Micah Hyde, Casey Hayward, and Davon House, who, in order or appearance, produced seasons that were surprisingly good, indicative of future performance, cut short by injury, and perplexing in their inconsistency.
On the other hand you have Sam Shields, who performed above expectations, lived up to his potential, was available for more games than he's ever been before, and remarkably consistent across the board.
Unfortunately, he's also set to be free and clear in free agency this year, and he's expected to fetch a big price.
And why wouldn't he? At 26, Shields is in the prime of his career. He's got decent size, tremendous speed, and has shown he can match up with the juggernaut receivers in the NFC North like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.
So who's he going to be playing for? Unfortunately, probably not the Packers.
Even if there is such a thing as a hometown discount in sports, Mr. Shields likely won't be all that inclined to give one to the Packers. For one, he's been waiting a while for a shot at a payday, and played last season under a restricted free agent tender. While it was guaranteed, it wasn't all that much. Shields probably wants to get his now, as he should.
Secondly, he's 26. While that puts him in his athletic prime, he's probably going to be at least 30 by the time his next contract is up. If he wants to cash in, it's going to be now.
Thirdly, the Packers already are paying one corner a premium rate: Tramon Williams is set to make $7.5 million in salary and bonuses next year. Ted Thompson would probably be slow to commit another $8-ish million to the position.
Why that figure? As Pete Dougherty with the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out. simple economics. In layman's terms, that's what the market paid last year, and Shields figures to be in the ballpark:
Last year, the four cornerbacks to come out of free agency with the highest-paying contracts were Philadelphia’s Cary Williams ($5.7 million average), Kansas City’s Sean Smith ($5.5 million), New Orleans’ Keenan Lewis ($5.11 million) and San Diego’s Derek Cox ($5 million). Their guaranteed money ranged from $5.75 million to $7.65 million.
The aforementioned scout said Shields is a better pure cover man than any of them, and thus figures to be in line for a better deal.
Based on those numbers, Shields' career situation, and the Packers relative depth at the position, we may have seen the last of Sam Shields in a Packers uniform.