Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
Sam Shields in 2013 racked up a career-high 61 tackles, 17 passes defensed and tied a career-high with four interceptions in the regular season. And that was in 14 games, missing two due to injury. Just imagine if he played in 16 full games.
Shields was once again the best cover cornerback on the Packers roster, and it has a lot to do with his speed. Sometimes he has a bad habit of getting beat deep more often than he should because he's peeking at the quarterback, but no cornerback is perfect.
The same goes for Tramon Williams. He's not a baseball pitcher, tossing a shutout. But he did provide very solid play for the Packers this past season, playing at a very high level the last half of the year.
It took the better part of two years for Williams to recover from a shoulder injury originally suffered in 2011, but it appears he finally has recovered, gaining back some of that physicality he lost.
There was a time when it was thought the Packers might ask Williams to restructure his contract, but after the season he put together, don't bet on it.
Although he's rough around the edges, Micah Hyde emerged as a solid player for a mid-round draft choice, especially when factoring in his special teams contributions. He's a slot cornerback almost exclusively, but could be a very good one at that.
Unfortunately, the other slot cornerback, Casey Hayward, had his season ended by a hamstring injury and never made a meaningful contribution in 2013. He's still a very big part of the Packers' future plans, however.
Davon House was the No. 3 perimeter cornerback and had an up-and-down year, never displaying the consistency needed to see regular playing time. He enters a make-or-break year in 2014.
Credit the coaches for never putting Jarrett Bush out on the perimeter this past season, and credit Bush for turning in perhaps his best season ever on defense as a result. He should be back in the same role next year, including his presence as a special teams leader.
James Nixon and Jumal Rolle will have the opportunity to prove themselves in the offseason.
Long-Range Free Agency Outlook
Sam Shields––It's debatable whether anyone would have considered Shields the team's offseason priority a year ago at this time, but an injury to Jermichael Finley and a pitiful year from B.J. Raji has made the cornerback Plan A.
What makes the future so cloudy with Shields, however, is his agent: Drew Rosenhaus, a cut-throat negotiator who will be looking to get top dollar for his client.
Shields probably deserves to be paid among the top 15 cornerbacks in the NFL, but does he deserve to be paid like a top 10 type of guy or even top five? That's debatable. And it's debatable whether the Packers could afford such a high number counting against the salary cap.
Both sides would like to avoid the franchise tag if possible, but if Rosenhaus isn't going to budge from a ridiculous number, the Packers have the option of potentially using the tag to keep Shields around for another season.
The franchise-tag figure expected to be in excess of $11 million is exorbitant, but it will come off the books after just one season. It would be a last-ditch effort to keep Shields around if they can't agree to a contract averaging somewhere between $7 to $10 million per season.
Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook
Perhaps if Shields were to leave in free agency, cornerback might become a bigger priority considering Williams, House and Bush are all set to become a free agents after next season.
But if Shields is back in the fold, the need for a cornerback is significantly less.
With the Packers expected to have at least nine draft choices after compensatory picks are handed out, it wouldn't be surprising for them to add a cornerback at some point. It just won't be in the first few rounds.
As long as they're healthy, Hayward and Hyde are the future at the position.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.