The Green Bay Packers have a whole bevy of free agents this year, including players like defensive end B.J. Raji and wide receiver James Jones. However, they all take a backseat to one player: cornerback Sam Shields.
While the entire secondary struggled at times, Shields was one of the lone defenders who produced on a consistent basis last year. Throw in the fact that Shields is only 26 years old and is only beginning to reach his prime, and it's a no-brainer that the Packers need his services for the 2014 season and beyond.
Let's take a look at exactly why the Packers absolutely must re-sign Shields this offseason.
What the Packers greatly lacked last year in their secondary was playmakers. Green Bay combined for only 11 interceptions last year. Only four teams in the NFL had fewer interceptions.
Shields accounted for four of those picks during the 2013 season. In fact, since Shields entered the league in 2010, he's been one of the better playmakers at the cornerback position in the NFL:
Free agent-to-be Sam Shields has had 17 interceptions since 2010, fourth-most in the NFL.— Packerpedia (@Packerpedia) February 9, 2014
When the Packers had a premier defense, it was because of their ability to create turnovers. In 2010, the Packers had the second-most interceptions in the league with 24. The following year, they led the NFL with 31 interceptions during the regular season.
Simply put, the Packers desperately need individuals in the secondary who can create turnovers and Shields is easily the best one they have.
No. 1 Cornerback Potential
For the first time this past season, Shields showed the potential to be a legitimate No. 1 cornerback in this league.
Shields lined up one-on-one against two of the better receivers in the league in Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns and A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals. Just look at the chart below to see how well Shields covered both of these incredible receivers:
|Receptions||Targets||% Caught||Receiving Yards||TDs|
Via Pro Football Focus and NFL.com
To put those numbers in perspective, Green averaged 6.3 receptions and 92 receiving yards in the other 15 games on his schedule. Gordon averaged 5.7 receptions and 108.3 yards per game when lined up against someone other than Shields.
Not only did Shields hold his own against elite receivers, he proved that he can be a lockdown defender on a consistent basis. Due to Shields' youth and current ability, he has the potential to be a No. 1 cornerback for Green Bay for a number of years.
Relatively Cheap to Re-Sign
The key word here is relatively. It'd be foolish to think that Shields won't get a hefty contract, but it shouldn't be anywhere near what the top players at his position make.
Pete Dougherty of The Green Bay Press-Gazette spoke with an NFL scout who guessed that Shields could "command as much as an $8.5 million average on the open market." While $8.5 million is certainly a good chunk of dough, there is also the possibility that Shields takes a hometown discount to stay with the team that originally gave him a chance.
Do the Packers absolutely need to re-sign Sam Shields?
Even if he doesn't take a discount, $8.5 million per year isn't terribly bad when you consider what the other top cornerbacks in the league make. Tampa Bay's Darrelle Revis averages $16 million per year, Denver's Champ Bailey averages $10.6 million and St Louis' Cortland Finnegan gets $10 million.
Shields might not be on the same level as Revis, but it's hard to argue that both Bailey and Finnegan are better long-term investments than Shields. If the Packers could re-sign Shields for close to $8.5 million per year, it'd be a relatively cheap deal for them.
When you combine Shields' potential to become a truly elite cornerback with his "relatively" inexpensive salary, it's easy to see why Shields is a player that the Packers absolutely must re-sign this offseason.
Salary information courtesy of Spotrac.com.