Is Sam Shields worth a Mega-Payday?


Sam Shields celebrates a sack during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field last season. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Sam Shields was a guy I was rooting for like crazy when he appeared, bright-eyed, at Green Bay Packers camp in 2010. An undrafted free agent, he defied the odds to not only earn a spot on the final roster of 53, but also see substantial playing time.

So when he intercepted Caleb Hanie in the final minute of the NFC Championship game in January 2011, well, it was truly the culmination of a feel-good story. That play sealed the win over the hated Chicago Bears and sent the Packers to Super Bowl XLV, where they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and brought home the Lombardi Trophy. Shields had two picks, a sack, and a forced fumble in that playoff game.

But that was then. This is now.

Sam Shields during last season’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports photograph

After a short holdout during OTAs this year, Shields finally signed his $2.02 million restricted free-agent tender this week. But the collective worry among Green Bay Packers fans is that his brief holdout foreshadows some hefty contract demands if and when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next spring.

His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, reportedly will meet with Packers brass on Monday to start talking about a new contract with Shields, and it will be quite interesting to learn what Shields is expecting to make. I could see the Packers offering him a three-year deal with fair market value, but if they aren’t in a rush to sign B.J. Raji to a long-term contract, why would they be in a rush to do so with Shields?

I also wonder if Rosenhaus and Shields will try to play hardball and go for the mega-payday on a long-term deal – you know, the mansion-a-hummer-and-an-entourage type money. My take on it is that the Packers drafted guys like Casey Hayward for a good reason. Also, if Davon House bounces back this year and fulfills his promise, Shields could become more expendable than he believes he is. And let’s not forget 2013 fifth-round pick, Micah Hyde. There is plenty of depth in the Green Bay defensive backfield.

Still, for fun, let’s compare Shields’ stats over the second half of 2012 – including the playoffs, which is when he made his biggest impact – with another highly-ranked cornerback over the same time span. Let’s look at the Bears’ Tim Jennings, who was ranked inside the NFL’s Top 100 (at No. 69) players for 2013 by (Shields did not make the list.)

Over his last eight games of the 2012 season and postseason, Shields had an impressive five interceptions, along with 13 passes defensed, one sack, a touchdown, and 26 tackles.

For his part, over his final eight contests Jennings notched five interceptions, 11 passes defensed, no sacks, one touchdown and 24 tackles. That small sample size does give Shields an argument that he could be as highly-ranked, as he clearly proved similar value. But Jennings has seven seasons as a pro under his belt with the Colts and Bears, so he has less to prove.

But for comparison’s sake, while Shields will make just more than $2 million next year, Jennings is on a tw0-year contract valued at a total of $7.6 million. Next season, he will make $4.25 million, or just over double what Shields will earn. Jennings’ 2012 output was by far a career year for him, so it’s hard to say whether the Bears will pony up to keep him. The same could be said for Shields, who has battled injuries and bouts of inconsistency during his short career.

Tramon Williams has had a distinguished career in Green Bay. However, should the Packers part ways with the longtime cornerback, Sam Shields might be the beneficiary.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

There’s also another X-factor named Tramon Williams, who will make $5.9 million this year, and who simply hasn’t been productive since suffering a shoulder injury during the 2011 season. Will he be cut loose and Shields get paid?

Regardless, here’s hoping that Shields keeps his wits about him and doesn’t turn into a miniature Jermichael Finley. It would be a shame for his feel-good story in Green Bay to end in a contract dispute.