GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The rehabilitation of the Green Bay Packers’ defense is still in its early stages, but they no longer have to worry about their cornerbacks.
By re-signing Sam Shields on Saturday to a four-year, $39 million contract, Packers general manager Ted Thompson now can focus on restoring the other parts of the defense to what they were early in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ tenure.
All along, Shields was the Packers’ top free-agent priority after finishing the best season of his career in 2013. At 26, the Packers believe he is an ascending player whose speed won’t leave him any time soon.
Shields did not come cheap. Over the first three years of the contract, he is expected to make $30 million (including $15 million this season). Among cornerbacks currently under contract for 2014, Shields would be the second-highest paid at his position behind only Darrelle Revis ($16 million) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It also means, barring any change in Tramon Williams’ status, the Packers will shell out $22.5 million to their starting cornerbacks this season. Williams is scheduled to earn $7.5 million ($6.9 million base salary and $600,000 in bonuses) this season.
With the expected return of Casey Hayward from last season’s hamstring problems, the Packers have to feel good about their cornerbacks.
And Thompson still has enough money and salary-cap space to use on what could be a significant overhaul to the defensive depth chart.
All three of the Packers’ starting defensive linemen are scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday. B.J. Raji is mulling a one-year deal to return as a nose tackle, while Ryan Pickett’s agent, Kennard McGuire, said Saturday that he plans to stay in contact with the Packers throughout free agency. The other defensive line starter, Johnny Jolly, is awaiting clearance from his doctors after undergoing neck fusion surgery. Pickett and Jolly likely could be had for low- to moderately-priced deals.
With Shields in the fold, perhaps the biggest issue facing Thompson is the safety position. There’s been no indication that he plans to offer M.D. Jennings a restricted free agent tender, and the Packers know they need to upgrade that position.
For now, though, Capers and his staff have to feel better about their secondary knowing Shields will return. Several times last season, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt acknowledged that while the defense, which finished last season ranked 25th in the league, did not play up to its standards as a whole, the same could not be said for Shields.
“You can’t take that away from him,” Whitt said late in the season.
“He’s trying to make that next step to: can he be in the conversation with some of the those top corners that are out there?” Whitt added.
And now he will be paid like one of them.