Sam Shields got his big payday, and the Green Bay Packers kept their young, ascending cornerback when the two sides agreed to a new, mutually beneficial deal Saturday night, just hours after free agents could begin discussions with other teams.
Pro Football Talk was the first to report that Shields accepted a four-year, $39 million deal from the Packers. According to Mike Wilkening of PFT, the contract includes a $12.5 million signing bonus and pays $15 million during the first year and $30 million over the first three years.
At almost $10 million per season, the Packers paid a steep price to keep Shields, but it works for both the team and player.
Shields expressed his excitement with the new deal via Twitter:
While still young, Shields has never been to a Pro Bowl or been named to an All-Pro team, and he's fought inconsistencies from year to year while still learning the position. In a crowded pool of free-agent cornerbacks, Shields figured to be among the top five or six, although names such as Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib and Vontae Davis will likely rule the market come Tuesday.
In comparison, Shields' $39 million eclipses that of Brent Grimes, whom the Miami Dolphins gave $32 million over four years earlier this week.
His $9.75 million average will now rank third on Green Bay, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews.
|Top 5 Yearly Salaries, Green Bay Packers|
|Player||Average Per Year|
|1.||QB Aaron Rodgers||$22.0M|
|2.||OLB Clay Matthews||$13.2M|
|3.||CB Sam Shields||$9.75M|
|4.||CB Tramon Williams||$8.25M|
|5.||G Josh Sitton||$6.75M|
|Source: Over the Cap|
While there is just a hint of an overpay, this deal is still a big win for both sides.
For Shields, an undrafted free agent back in 2010, the $39 million contract represents his first big deal as a professional. Prior to signing Saturday, Shields had made under $4 million total over his first four years in the NFL. He'll earn roughly 10 times as much over the next four years.
And while Shields didn't make a killing in terms of guaranteed money—his $12.5 million signing bonus was less than what Grimes received in guarantees from Miami—he can bank on being a productive player for the next four years and receiving most, if not all, of the $39 million total value. He is only 26 (will be 27 in December), so his blazing speed does not figure to erode at any time over the course of the deal.
The four-year contract also sets up Shields to potentially cash in a second time after this deal expires, when he'll be just 31 years old.
Meanwhile, the Packers have clearly banked on Shields to continue his ascension as an NFL cornerback.
Remember, contracts are all about paying for future projection. While past production plays into projection, the Packers are giving Shields $39 million because they feel he can become one of the game's top players at the position at some point in the next four years. The money speaks for itself.
And maybe there is reason for the Packers to believe Shields is on the brink of stardom.
In 2013 alone, he played in five games where he faced off against either A.J. Green, Josh Gordon, Brandon Marshall or Calvin Johnson—the giants of the receiver position. But according to data at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Shields allowed just eight catches for 129 yards and one touchdown when targeted against those receivers last season. The numbers include a shutout against Gordon, the NFL's leading receiver in 2013.
|Sam Shields vs. Top NFL WRs, 2013|
|Brandon Marshall (x2)||CHI||1||37||0||0|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
Shields also did fine work against Johnson on Thanksgiving Day, including this interception in the end zone:
In reality, only two receivers got the best of Shields last season. Anquan Boldin chewed up the Packers' zone look in Week 1, with over 100 of his 208 yards coming against Shields. And a week later, Pierre Garcon went for over 100 receiving yards during garbage time of a blowout loss.
Shields allowed just 29 catches and 400 yards over the final 15 games (including playoffs), with a catch rate under 50 percent and an opposing passer rating under 70.0.
The Packers couldn't afford to let a player of Shields' caliber leave, especially with so many holes on defense already needing filling this offseason.
Had he hit free agency and signed elsewhere, Green Bay would have needed to put serious consideration into either signing one of the top cornerbacks available or drafting one high in May. Now, general manager Ted Thompson can focus his attention away from cornerback and onto safety, inside linebacker or the defensive line.
The deal also dances in line with Thompson's roster-building strategy, which is based upon finding, developing and then paying the best homegrown players in a draft-and-develop approach. The Packers plucked Shields—a former receiver at Miami—out of undrafted free agency in 2010, and he's since progressed into an ideal boundary cornerback, complete with speed, length and playmaking ability.
Thompson hasn't let many players who've come up in the Packers system get away, especially before a second contract. And he wasn't prepared to do so with Shields.
The structuring of the deal should also benefit the Packers, who had over $30 million in cap space before Shields' deal was complete. Given the contract numbers, Shields' cap hit in 2014 is expected to be just over $5.6 million (full predicted contract table below).
|Sam Shields Contract Structuring (Predicted)|
|Base Salary||Prorated Bonuses||Cap Hit|
|Source: Over the Cap|
Given the relatively soft 2014 cap hit, the Packers will still have around $28 million left to re-sign other in-house free agents, add an unrestricted free agent or two or work out extensions for Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb. Thompson won't be at all restricted by the money being paid to Shields next season.
The contract structuring (if matching the table above) will also provide the Packers an out after 2015. If Shields bombs over the next two seasons, Green Bay can cut ties and save almost half of the contract's worth. And there may be later incentive to restructure the deal after 2015.
Both sides should feel good about the final result.
Shields has his big payday, with a yearly salary that places him among the top cornerbacks. The Packers avoided a nightmare scenario, instead keeping their young, talented cover man while not paying out big guarantees or handcuffing themselves in terms of the 2014 market.