Packers Taking Chances With Talented Shields

Shields (Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports)

Sam Shields, who ranks fourth in the league in interceptions over the past four seasons, is headed to free agency, barring a drastic change before the signing period begins on March 11.

The Green Bay Packers, with a defense that needs to be bolstered if they're going to remain a championship contender, is at risk of taking a sizable step backward on that side of the football.

The Packers elected not to use the franchise tag on cornerback Sam Shields. That would have cost the Packers about $11.8 million — or about one-third of their available salary-cap space.

With agent Drew Rosenhaus having cut off negotiations so his client could test the market, Shields almost certainly will be one of the most coveted players on the free-agent marketplace when the signing period begins at 3 p.m. (Central) on March 11.

Shields intercepted a team-high four passes in 14 games this past season. Among his three in the last five games was a season-saving interception at Dallas and a clinching pick at Chicago. By the team's count, he broke up 25 passes. That was almost as many as Tramon Williams (14) and Davon House (13) combined. Only Ed Reed (20), Richard Sherman (20) and Williams (18) have more interception than Shields' 17 over the past four seasons (playoffs included).

The cornerback market is strong, which could work in the Packers' favor.

Brent Grimes was retained by Miami on Monday with a four-year deal worth $32 million, including $16 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

It certainly could be argued Shields will get a bigger deal than that. Grimes will turn 31 in July and he played in just one game in 2012 before sustaining a torn Achilles. He has 17 interceptions in seven seasons (regular season only).

Shields, who will turn 27 in December, has a history of relatively minor injuries. He's played in 53 of a possible 64 regular-season games. He has 13 interceptions in four seasons (regular season only).

Other than Grimes, all of Scout.com's top cornerbacks remain unsigned, a list led by Tennessee's Alterraun Verner, New England's Aqib Talib, Indianapolis' Vontae Davis and Denver's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

However, with the salary cap increasing by $10 million, more teams will have the financial resources to throw a blockbuster deal at Shields, a rising player who fared well when matched against the likes of A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson.

"When he first came in, he was a receiver playing corner," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said at the end of the season. "Now he is a defensive back and a very good one. So there's just a huge, huge difference. He's shown the ability to tackle — which he needs to tackle better than he did this year, but he showed really that last year. The ability to cover No. 1 receivers, the ability to challenge them, the ability to get the ball every time his hands touch it, he's just really come a long way. And his best football's still in front of him. that's the encouraging thing. You haven't seen his best football yet."

That "best football yet" might not be coming in Green Bay, however.


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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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