Sam Shields: A Lesson in Decision Making
UPDATE: As of early Monday afternoon, Sam Shields has signed his restricted free agent tender, valued at $2.02 million. He and the Packers are reportedly still working on a long-term deal.
Restricted free agent cornerback Sam Shields and the Green Bay Packers have not yet been able to agree on a new contract and as a result, Shields has not participated in any of the team’s organized team activities this offseason.
Surely the missed practice time will open the door for another player to possibly unseat Shields and his starting outside cornerback slot, right? OK, probably not.
This season will be Shields’ fourth in the NFL and he is hardly a rookie. Furthermore, he is familiar with the team’s defensive scheme and the defensive coaching staff remains largely intact from last season. It would be premature to say that Shields is falling behind the others because of that missed time. If the season started today and Shields were under contract with the Packers, my bet is that he would be at one of the two starting outside cornerback spots. If not a starter, he would see significant playing time.
Clearly, the Packers have a decision to make regarding Shields, but they aren’t the only ones facing consequences of their actions, or inactions. Both parties have already made some moves and decisions that will impact how this scenario will play out. Let’s examine a bit further.
During the 2010 playoff run, Shields made a crucial interception late in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game that sealed the win for the Packers and sent them to Super Bowl XLV. In 2011, Shields continued to make plays and develop within the team’s defensive scheme. One of the last highlights that we saw from the 2012 season was Shields’ interception of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the first drive of the Divsional playoff game. Shields returned it for an easy touchdown and, just like that, the Packers had an early lead. It is plays like that that have defined Shields’ value to the team. Most of the attention that Shields has garnered has been because of what he has done on the field.
Shields became a restricted free agent when the 2012 season ended and in mid-March, the Packers placed a second-round tender on Shields. Most of the attention then shifted to his contract status, or lack thereof, with the Packers. Because Shields didn’t have enough vested time in the league yet, he was only eligible for restricted free agency. That means the Packers had the option to tender, or place a value on Shields as they saw fit. They could have given him a first-round tender, meaning that if another team signed Shields and the Packers chose not to match the deal, the receiving team would forfeit their first round pick to Green Bay. Packers General Manager Ted Thompson felt a second round tender was enough to likely demotivate other teams from signing Shields and also give the two sides some time to work out a new contract.
Thompson now has two options: sign Shields to a one-year deal worth the second round tender amount ($2.02 million), after which Shields becomes an unrestricted free agent. The second option is to come to terms on a longer-term extension that is mutually agreeable. After his performance last season and the fact that he is just 24 years old, the prevailing consensus is that the Packers and Thompson would prefer the latter.
Shields proved be a difference-maker for this team last season. After being lost to an ankle injury in week six last season, Shields’ absence from the defensive backfield was noticeable. Second-year corner Davon House stepped in and was adequate, but it was clear that the Packers’ secondary was not as formidable as it had been with a healthy Shields. Shields finally returned in early December and immediately propelled a struggling Packers team to another win at home against the Detroit Lions. From there, Shields went on to post three more interceptions, including one in each playoff game.
The Packers have about $13.5 million in salary cap space this season, even after they signed their two best players, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, to long-term extensions. That would seemingly place Thompson’s focus on getting Shields signed to a new deal.
Under Thompson, the Packers have not typically been flamboyant with the types of contracts that they give their players. Sure, there are exceptions. Matthews is now the highest paid linebacker in the league and Rodgers is currently the highest-paid player in the NFL, but each is a completely different caliber of player. Their value to the Packers is immeasurable. Shields is nowhere near that level. In recent history, the Packers and the core of players that are currently on the roster have, for the most part, been able to come to contract terms with little squabbling. Enter Sam Shields and his “super agent”, Drew Rosenhaus.
Some of you with long memories are already reaching for the Alka-Seltzer tablets. For those with shorter memories, allow me to put the current Shields situation on hold and provide some background on the Packers’ history with Rosenhaus.
2004: Starting cornerback Mike McKenzie was in the second year of a five year deal when he and his agent at the time, Rosenhaus, decided it was time for a new contract. McKenzie had been an integral part of the team’s success the year prior and as such, he felt he deserved a raise. He held out of training camp and caused a stir with then Packers head coach and GM, Mike Sherman. When Sherman refused to give in to McKenzie’s demands, McKenzie demanded a trade and was sent off to the New Orleans Saints. The Packers turned to first-round pick Ahmad Carroll at McKenzie’s departed corner spot and, well, we all know how that movie ended.
2005: Pro Bowl receiver Javon Walker had just come off of his best season as a pro and, much like McKenzie the year prior, teamed up with his agent, Rosenhaus, to compel the Packers to give him a new deal. Walker threatened to hold out, causing another stir in Green Bay and prompting then Packers quarterback Brett Favre to speak out against Walker’s tactics and urge him to join the team. Nearly all of Green Bay and Packer nation were growing very weary of Rosenhaus and his tactics. Walker ultimately decided to come to training camp on time and earn his money through his play. He fired Rosenhaus a few months later.
2010 & 2011: Just when everyone thought it was safe, Rosenhaus struck again, seemingly putting an end to running back Brandon Jackson’s and safety Atari Bigby’s time in Green Bay. Cheesehead TV’s Brian Carriveau broke those situations down here.
For those who may feel that I’m putting Rosenhaus in a negative light, take a look at this story from last fall about an investigation by the NFL Player’s Association into some questionable business practices. Rosenhaus clearly doesn’t need my help to illustrate his M.O. For years, he has been the type of agent that everyone loves to hate, from players to team ownership to fans alike. Still, he doesn’t care. He is out to get his and do so in grand fashion. Even his clients are a distant second on the totem pole. As such, when a player hires Rosenhaus to represent him, it’s easy to assume that the player has some kind of intention and often times, it’s not the best. They are either readying for a lengthy negotiation or a holdout.
Now back to Shields. Carriveau raises an interesting question as it relates to the team’s dealings with Rosenhaus. Is the fact that Shields has Rosenhaus representing him causing a delay in his getting a new contract? Only Ted Thompson and Sam Shields know the true answer to that question, but my guess is that it doesn’t help. Thompson has never been forthcoming about player negotiations. He doesn’t take to the media to plant little jabs to try and discredit his players or gain leverage. We can only assume that negotiations are ongoing, but that Thompson is sticking to his usual guns and will not be pushed around by Rosenhaus and his tactics.
If Shields doesn’t know the team’s history with Rosenhaus, someone should bring him up to speed. If Shields is aware and just doesn’t care, then we may be looking at a key player who could be leaving Green Bay after this season.
Most players prefer not to play on a one-year deal. Long-term contracts obviously offer more guaranteed money and security for as much risk as there is in playing football. The Packers, however, are not going to over-pay for anyone. It’s Rosenhaus vs. Thompson again and the battle is on. It’s unlikely that this ends soon but at some point, Shields is going to want to get paid. He can’t do that if he’s not in uniform.
Can Shields make the right decision for himself and his career? The Packers are hoping so. However, let’s not forget that this is the same player who, after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, put a gaudy tattoo of the Packers championship ring on the side of his neck. Sure, Shields may ultimately end up on another team, but unless he knows a good tattoo removal service, he will always have a big reminder of his time in Green Bay.
At this point, it’s hard to predict how negotiations will go from here and with Rosenhaus at the wheel of the bus, the road to getting a deal done will surely have its share of twists and turns. Stay tuned!
MORNING UPDATE: Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette reports that Rosenhaus is meeting with the Packers TODAY…
AFTERNOON UPDATE: Albert Breer has just tweeted that Shields has signed his RFA tender.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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