RFA Shields Lacks Leverage After Rebound

Sam Shields ranked as one of the top cornerbacks in the league in several categories, including ranking first in receptions allowed per snap. Nonetheless, he didn't get a nibble in restricted free agency. The only card up Shields' sleeve is not showing up, but the Packers have all the power.

By staying away from the voluntary organized team activities, Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields is using the only leverage he has at his disposal.

Shields is coming off of a season in which he played outstanding football when healthy. In 10 games, he ranked among the league leaders in several categories and is on the verge of establishing himself as one of the NFL's top young cover men. A restricted free agent, Shields has not signed his $2.023 million tender as he seeks the security of a long-term contract.

Shields' leverage, however, is next to nothing. The window to be offered a contract from another team closed about a month ago, so Shields essentially is tied to the Packers for 2013.

The next deadline is June 17, when the Packers are permitted to reduce the tender to 110 percent of his 2012 salary. That would mean Shields would be playing for the four-year veteran minimum of $630,000. That's a reduction of more than two-thirds from the tender.

In 2010, Shields went from undrafted rookie to a vital cog of the Packers' championship season. Rather than take a step forward in 2011, his play regressed. He found himself behind Jarrett Bush and Davon House when training camp started in 2012.

Shields took the coaches' message to heart. He had a strong training camp, and while Bush got the start against San Francisco in Week 1, Shields changed his fortunes with an open-field tackle of standout 49ers running Frank Gore on a third-down play in the fourth quarter.

Sam Shields intercepts a pass in the playoff win over Minnesota. Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

It was just what the coaches needed to see, with Shields routinely answering questions about whether the receiver-turned-defender was willing to sacrifice his body and be an every-down player.

"He decreased his missed tackles by half," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said at the end of last season. "That was a question that everybody had about the young man. Will he hit? Well, in my opinion, he's not only (shown that), he and JB (Bush) are the most physical corners that we have. He's the best tackling one. And he put that on film. That's not me talking. Go back and look at the film and evaluate it yourself."

Despite missing six games with a shin/ankle injury, Shields tallied three interceptions and 16 passes defensed. He added another against Minnesota in the wild card game and a pick-six against San Francisco in the divisional round, tying a franchise record with four postseason interceptions for his career.

Going further inside the numbers, however, provides context to just how good Shields was last season.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, 71 cornerbacks played at least 50 percent of their teams' defensive snaps. By that threshold, Shields ranked:

-- 14th with a passer rating allowed of 69.8;

-- Sixth with a completion percentage allowed of 47.7;

-- First with 21 receptions allowed;

-- First with one reception allowed per every 16.3 snaps in coverage;

-- Second with 355 receiving yards allowed;

-- Ninth with 113 yards allowed after the catch;

-- Tied for 10th with four missed tackles;

-- Tied for 15th with 1.04 yards allowed per snap in coverage.

"Sam's performance this year was comparable if not better than Tramon (Williams') in 2010," Whitt said. "What he did coming back from the Detroit game until the last six games, counting the two playoffs, just go back and watch how he played and the impact that he had. The only reason I'm talking about him is he took so much criticism about the way he performed last year and through training camp, and to come back and play, especially the last six games the way that he's played I think is very encouraging to what he can be in the future."

The Packers gambled and won by using a second-round tender on Shields, resulting in a savings of about $700,000 over the first-round tender. Given Shields' youth, production and room to grow, he should have been considered a prime target in a league flush with salary cap space and starved for quality cornerbacks.

However, Shields didn't even get a nibble in restricted free agency. It's no surprise: In the last five offseasons, only one restricted free agent changed teams – and that came during the uncapped season of 2010, when the free-agent rules expanded the restricted pool to players with three years of experience to players with five years of experience. Only one player even received an offer this offseason, receiver Emmanuel Sanders, with Pittsburgh matching New England's offer sheet. That's one more offer sheet than was handed out in 2012.

Call it collusion. Call it teams being unwilling to negotiate a contract for that player's original team. Either way, Shields will be back in Green Bay.

"It's business. You never want to get in the way of business," Williams said on Tuesday. "Obviously, we'd love him to be here but you have to do business first. Once you get the business done, I (am sure) that he'll be here and he'll be ready to go and he'll be in shape — the whole nine (yards)."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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