The Green Bay Packers made their first big move in free agency on Saturday night, signing Sam Shields to a $39 million, four-year deal, according to NFL NFL Insider Adam Schefter (h/t Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com). Although approximately $10 million per year for a cornerback might seem steep, Shields has improved steadily over the years and is arguably one of the best players on their defense.
However, some may question whether this deal was fair and that general manager Ted Thompson may have overpaid for Shields, considering the other needs this team needs to address in the offseason.
The Packers certainly did give Shields a generous contract. With that contract, he will be the second-highest paid cornerback in the league, according to Demovsky, with only Darrelle Revis making more money. However, if Shields had left for another team, the Packers would have lost not only one of their rising stars on defense but also one of the few defensive playmakers they have.
In 2010 and 2011, the Packers defense prided on turnovers. But with the departures of Nick Collins and Charles Woodson and the decline in play of Tramon Williams, turnovers in 2012 and 2013 were far less frequent than in past years.
In 2011, the Packers defense accounted for an astounding 31 interceptions. Last year, the Packers defense only accounted for 11 interceptions throughout the season, with Shields leading the team in that category with four picks.
Although the Packers' cornerback position appears deep, Shields was clearly the best corner last season, and though he has had a few bumps along the way, he has steadily improved as a player. In addition, depth can always be affected by not only injuries, but players moving to different positions.
Mike McCarthy has mentioned that he would consider moving cornerback Micah Hyde to safety. If Hyde moves to safety, the Packers' most reliable corners will be Shields, Williams and Casey Hayward. This is certainly a strong corps in the secondary, and they will need this group, especially if injuries hit or if the players at the safety position continue to disappoint.
Although the Packers did reward Shields with a large contract, they still have plenty of cap room to spend on other needs if they decide to become more active in free agency.
In addition, although Shields' new contract looks hefty, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Tom Silverstein tweeted that Shields would cost around $5.6 million this year, which isn't an unreasonable price, especially considering that they have around $35 million in cap room this year.
This certainly gives them room to spend money on a few free agents this year, and even if they aren't the elite, high-priced players whom some fans might want to see in a Packers uniform, they certainly still have room to sign a few solid free agents who could, at the very least, add some depth and perhaps some leadership to this defense.
General manager Ted Thompson has been notably good about signing players for reasonable prices, and although the Shields signing might appear to be the Packers overpaying the cornerback, he just might be worth the contract, especially considering the Packers' excess cap space this year.
For the Packers, signing a rising star like Sam Shields is not only about keeping one of the most talented players on their defense, but it also helps bring the defense some stability while the team works on filling the holes needed to bring this unit back to championship form.