Defense Might Be Thrown For Early Loss

A defense that needs to take several steps forward might be taking a big step back if it loses Sam Shields in free agency. Shields, who was easily the secondary's most productive player last season, should be a building block for a rebuilding defense.

Here is the challenge facing Green Bay Packers Ted Thompson:

His task for the short term is to make the necessary adjustments to a team that has gone from Super Bowl champion to 15-1, 11-5 and 8-7-1.

His task for the long term is to keep his team among the championship contenders on an annual basis.

And therein likes Thompson's dilemma with cornerback Sam Shields.

If the goal is to win a championship in 2014, then their odds of achieving that are much better with Shields, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward as their cornerbacks instead of Williams, Hayward and Davon House.

Shields is a rarity for Thompson — the young, on-the-rise player who wouldn't sign a long-term extension. The closer Shields got to hitting the market, the less reason there was for him to consider the Packers' offer. Thus, it was no surprise that agent Drew Rosenhaus pulled the plug on negotiations.

That made the franchise tag the Packers' only option. Shields is good, but is Shields $11.834 million-per-season good? That's the cap hit the Packers would have absorbed had they slapped the franchise tag on Shields on Monday.

Given Green Bay's problems on defense the past three seasons, Shields would appear to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. He's an ascending player who ranks fourth in the NFL in interceptions over the past four seasons and led the team with four picks in 2013. His 25 passes defensed last season were almost as many as Williams (14) and House (13) combined. In fact, every other defensive back on the team combined for five interceptions and 46 passes defensed.

Among the 110 cornerbacks who played 25 percent of the snaps, Shields ranked 23rd with a passer rating allowed of 72.7, tied for eighth with 50.0 percent completions against and tied for 17th with one reception allowed for every 12.3 snaps in coverage, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Those are strong numbers, considering he's still relatively new to the position. Remember, Shields played receiver at Miami until his final season in college. He's only 26 and has proven to be highly coachable, so his best days should be ahead of him.

"I think he's one of our top one (or) two guys on defense, in my opinion. So, he's important to us," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said.

Added Williams: "Sam's been a big part of this defense, a playmaker for this defense, and we need him around."

But Shields might not be around because the Packers aren't the only team overflowing with cap space. A source said the Packers are $35.0 million under the cap. According to OverTheCap.com, the Raiders ($66.5 million), Jaguars ($56.1 million), Browns ($47.4 million), Colts ($40.1 million) and Dolphins ($39.2 million), have more cap space. In all, 11 teams are at least $25 million below the cap and $19 teams have more than $17 million in cap space. Sources have told Packer Report that the Raiders and Browns could be prime contenders, and Ndamukong Suh was pushing for the Lions to make a move. The Vikings, who also are about $35 million under the cap, are always quick to sign a key player away from their rivals to the east.

If the Packers lose Shields, it will be a considerable setback and will increase the pressure on Thompson to solve the defense's shortcomings. With Shields, Hayward and Williams, the Packers would have been in good shape at cornerback and probably wouldn't have felt the need to spend a premium draft pick to fortify the position. Without Shields, the Packers probably will have to make a sizable investment in cornerback. That's a considerable blow for a team that needs (or might need) help at defensive line, safety, linebacker, tight end and receiver. It also might make the team think twice about moving Micah Hyde from cornerback to safety.

To be sure, Green Bay isn't out of the running. It's not as if Rosenhaus is going to keep Thompson out of the loop. Still, the Packers are at risk of losing one of their best defenders, and a defense that needs to take several steps forward might be taking a big step back.


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


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.


Packer Report Top Stories