Call it informed foreshadowing.
Early Saturday morning, superagent Drew Rosenhaus tweeted: "What a difference a year makes! Free agency will be a lot better this year" -- a nod to the chilly receptions players found from thrifty teams last offseason. Proof positive that Rosenhaus may be right about his assessment came just a few hours later when his client, cornerback Sam Shields, inked a four-year, $39 million contract with a $12.5 million signing bonus to stay in Green Bay.
Obviously, that contract is good news for Rosenhaus and Shields, the latter cashing in huge despite having yet to play a full 16 games in his four NFL seasons. Despite the high price tag, it's a clear positive for the Packers too, who now return their top corner to a deep and improving secondary.
But it is the other pending free agents, especially in the secondary, who might be viewing Shields' contract with the widest smiles on their faces. Shields was able to push the envelope on the four-year, $32 million extension Brent Grimes just signed in Miami. At $9.75 million, the average per season on Shields' deal ranks third in the NFL among cornerbacks, behind only Darrelle Revis ($16 million) and Brandon Carr ($10.02 million).
Shields is certainly a solid corner, and at 26 years old he may only now be entering his prime. But is he a top-three cornerback in this league? If not, how much will his contract impact what's to come when free agency opens on the 11th?
While Grimes is already back under contract, Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Vontae Davis are primed to hit the market. Others, like Seattle's Richard Sherman, will require extensions in the near future. The bump in the league's salary cap to $133 million for 2014 left plenty of teams with money to spend, and cornerback remains a premium position -- especially in light of how decisively Sherman and the Seahawks' secondary impacted this season. And speaking of Sherman, he was quick to show his approval of the deal:
So, in other words, in light of this, money could be flying at cornerbacks next week. Those aforementioned cornerbacks likely will use Grimes' and Shields' contracts as measuring sticks for their own demands. Talib and Verner both landed second-team All-Pro nods; Rodgers-Cromartie was an integral piece of a conference champion. That Shields commanded nearly $10 million per year (and stands to earn $21 million combined in 2014-15) will make it very difficult for any team to woo the remaining top CB free agents with lesser offers.
The Packers front-loaded Shields' contract in the manner they did for at least two reasons: 1) They had money to spend for the upcoming season -- even with $15 million headed Shields' way in 2014, the Packers should have around $18 million free; and 2) The plan leaves them wiggle room to extend players like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in the near future.
The overall total probably stands as an overpay. Shields has never been great against the run and he is not yet at Sherman's level as a lock-down corner. The leap may be worth it anyway for the Packers.
It definitely will pay off for the soon-to-be free agent cornerbacks waiting their turns.
Grade: A-minus. Shields may not have found such a lucrative deal in free agency, so the Packers went for broke a bit to keep him in tow. The decision might backfire, but because of the reported contract structure, the risk is mostly limited to the 2014 and '15 seasons. There's a lot to live up to here for Shields. The alternative -- a bidding war in what might be a wild market -- was not too desirable.