With the start of free agency now approximately a month away, there's no consensus as to the size of contract Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields might receive, at least from those projections published in the media.
Average per year predictions range from as little as $3.5 million to as much as $8.5 million for a player perhaps thought to be Packers' highest priority among their 17 unrestricted free agents this offseason.
On the high end of the contract forecasts, Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette talked to a scout this past week that felt Shields could command a figure as high as the $8.5 million previously mentioned.
A number like that would put Shields on par with fellow Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, who's entering the final year of a four-year contract in 2014, averaging $8.25 million per season that ranks eighth in the NFL, according to Spotrac.com.
Among the lower-end projections is an article from Jason Fitzgerald of OvertheCap.com.
"(Shields) would likely be looking at a deal similar to that of Kyle Arrington who earned $4 million a season from New England," writes Fitzgerald. "His bottom figure should be Tramaine Brock of the 49ers whose contract has a base value of $3.5 million a year."
The low-end projection for Shields might be perhaps too low, but Fitzgerald does have a method behind his madness.
While the top-paid cornerbacks in the NFL such as Darelle Revis, Champ Bailey and Brandon Carr have contracts averaging in excess of $10 million per season, the market softened significantly for cornerbacks in free agency last year with no player receiving a contact that averaged in excess of $6 million annually.
From Dougherty's article:
Last year, the four cornerbacks to come out of free agency with the highest-paying contracts were Philadelphia’s Cary Williams ($5.7 million average), Kansas City’s Sean Smith ($5.5 million), New Orleans’ Keenan Lewis ($5.11 million) and San Diego’s Derek Cox ($5 million). Their guaranteed money ranged from $5.75 million to $7.65 million.
So where will the contract for Shields fall? Probably somewhere between the high and low projections suggested earlier but erring toward the bigger side.
What can't be ruled out, however, is the Packers using either the franchise or transition tag on Shields, a possibility both parties––Shields and the Packers––would probably like to avoid.
At first blush, the projected franchise-tag figure for cornerbacks of $11.26 million (as estimated by CBSSports.com) looks to be exorbitant. But it's also a number that is wiped off the books after only one year.
Shields' agent Drew Rosenhaus, who's known for driving a hard bargain, must tread a fine line between trying to get top dollar for his client and getting fair market value.
If Shields and Rosenhaus insist on contract that's going to pay the cornerback in a range nearing $10 million per season instead of negotiating in good faith, they risk getting slapped with the franchise tag or transition tag that potentially only delays Shields' ability to ink a long-term deal.
Furthermore, if the Packers would seriously consider paying Shields a contract averaging nearly $8.5 million, would an extra $2.75 for just one year under the franchise tag be a breaking point for them? That point is debatable, but it's probably not out of the question.
Until free agency actually begins, the Packers have exclusive negotiating rights with Shields until March 8. While talks may be ongoing, there's likely to be a face-to-face meeting at the NFL Combine less than two weeks away when agents and all NFL teams are in the same city at the same time.
Just 26 years old, Shields could be a centerpiece for the Packers defense to build around for years to come, but they also have to fit his contract within a salary-cap structure that's already eaten up in large part by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
The Packers currently have plenty of space available, but it will be eaten up quickly when they start to re-sign other members of their free agent class or extend players such as wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
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.
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