Given the choice between what was likely a competitive but underwhelming contract extension and the opportunity to earn himself an even more lucrative deal, Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields decided to bet on himself.
Back in June, and just months removed from the best 10-game stint of his NFL career, Shields picked his one-year restricted tender—worth $2.02 million—over signing a multi-year deal with the Packers.
Fast forward to late October, and Shields' gamble appears to be inching closer and closer to paying off. Week after week, the 25-year-old cornerback is earning himself the big contract he and agent Drew Rosenhaus thought he deserved this summer.
The Packers, who are generally very responsive to giving deserving and home-grown players extensions, must realize Shields' price tag is growing higher and higher with every shutdown performance he delivers.
Since Anquan Boldin abused the Packers ill-advised zone defense, and Pierre Garcon chewed up garbage time yards in Week 2 (a game in which he received a game ball for), Shields has been the epitome of a No.1 cornerback.
In fact, good luck finding a player at his position that has had a better last month than Shields.
According to Pro Football Focus, Shields has allowed just nine receptions on 20 targeted passes in consecutive games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Among the receivers he's battled are A.J. Green, Torrey Smith and Josh Gordon, who combined have 1,698 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. Smith and Green are first and third in the NFL in receiving yards, respectively, and Gordon came into his Week 7 matchup with Shields averaging over 100 yards a contest.
These aren't scrubs he's shut down; they are bonafide NFL stars at the receiver position.
In Cincinnati, Shields held Green to four catches, 40 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks later, Smith wiggled free for just two catches and 23 yards. Gordon didn't have a catch against Shields Sunday.
The contract decision for the Packers is now a difficult one.
Should the team give Shields he's obviously earned, but when leverage is so clearly in the player's court? Given the way Shields ended last season—when he was arguably the NFL's best cover cornerback over the final 10 games, including playoffs—and his impressive start to 2013, Rosenhaus has every reason to ask for a bank-breaking deal to get his client locked up long term. Extending Shields now would cost considerably more than it did back in June.
But without an extension soon, the Packers would be running the risk of Shields continuing his elite-level performance and, in the process, running up his price to astronomical levels in the spring, when he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Given how much value cornerbacks now have in a passing game, Shields could become one of the hottest free agents on the open market in 2014.
For Shields, the script really couldn't be playing out any better.
A former college receiver, Shields is now a budding star covering the NFL's best pass catchers. At 25 years old, he's only entering his prime. And above all, he's become an invaluable member of his current team's present and future plans.
Even if the Packers don't pay, someone will.
Back in November of 2010, the Packers gave Tramon Williams a five-year deal worth $38.2 million, with over $11 million guaranteed. The deal averaged nearly $7.7 million per season.
But Rosenhaus, a hard bargaining agent known for sucking every penny out of a deal, might be able to now aim higher with Shields' next deal. Among the recent contracts signed at the position are Brandon Carr (five years, $50.1 million) and Cortland Finnegan (five years, $50 million)—two deals that could serve as jumping off points for Shields' camp.
The Packers chose not to give Shields an agreeable multi-year deal this summer. Two months into 2013, Shields has proved worthy of one. Both sides must know that the price tag for an extension is growing weekly.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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