According to ESPN and Adam Schefter, Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields is going to hit the free agency market, and many Packer fans are wondering if the play-making corner will be resigned, or if his price will be too high for general manager Ted Thompson, and he will walk.
Throughout his tenure in Green Bay, Shields has not only shown an ability to make plays, particularly in their 2010 Super Bowl run, but he has also improved in his ability to cover opposing wide receivers. Many might argue that Shields is one of the best players on the Packers' defense, so the losing him could potentially be a big hit to this defense.
However, despite Shields' talent, his position has other players who could replace him, as well. Veteran corner Tramon Williams has slowed a bit over the years, but he is still a reliable corner who also makes plays. And younger corners Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde have shown to be talented contributors, as well.
The Packers could also potentially get another cornerback in the offseason. Draft expert Todd McShay has suggested the Packers choose cornerback prospect Justin Gilbert in the NFL draft, and although Ted Thompson is not one to dip into free agency, there is always the possibility of bringing in a reasonably-priced role player to make up for Shields' absence. Of course, if Shields stays, it wouldn’t hurt to still build up this secondary. If depth is added by free agency or the draft to the safety position, and the Packers can hold on to Shields, the Packers could go from having one of the weakest secondaries in the NFL to one of the best.
Regardless of who will be in the lineup next year, Green Bay's defense will certainly look to improve their secondary after the unit disappointed in 2013. However, the main culprit for the secondary's struggles was not the cornerback position, which at times looked deep with Williams, Shields, and Hyde added onto the expected return of Casey Hayward from injury this past season; it was the safeties that proved to be the weaker unit.
Third round draft pick Morgan Burnett hasn’t lived up to the expectations thus far, undrafted safety M.D. Jennings, who made some key plays in 2012, took a step back in 2013, and former fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian couldn't even stay on the roster by the end of the year. It is clear that depth is needed to be added to that position, and not as much with the cornerbacks.
However, a lack of depth at the safety position could still affect the depth of the corners, especially if the Packers can’t resign Shields. Mike McCarthy has stated that they have considered moving cornerback Micah Hyde to safety. If this happens, Shields’ value will increase exponentially, because there will be less options for replacing him if Hyde makes the move to safety.
It is without a doubt that Shields is talented and is valuable to this Packers defense, but there is still hope for this unit to succeed without him. However, In order for them to succeed without him, they need to add more depth in the secondary; depth that would not only address their struggling safeties, but also depth that would account for the absence of one of their best defensive players in 2013.