GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers and cornerback Sam Shields disagree on how much Shields should be paid, so they are going to let the market decide.
ESPN.com and ProFootballTalk.com were the first to report it and someone from Shields’ camp confirmed later Saturday that agent Drew Rosenhaus was done talking with the Packers for now and planned to have Shields test the open market starting March 8.
The Packers are still a player, but unless they up their offer to Shields soon, they will be competing with others for his services.
If the Packers wanted they could purchase insurance in the form of a “franchise” or “transition” tag that would allow them varying degrees of protection from losing Shields. But the tags come at a huge price — a one-year, $11.834 million offer with the franchise and a one-year, $10.081 million offer with the transition — and if general manager Ted Thompson was willing to do that, he probably would have signed Shields by now.
The Packers have until Monday to decide whether to use one of the tags on one of their unrestricted free agents.
The Packers and Rosenhaus have been talking for a while and the fact they haven’t reached a deal — especially given the $35 million in salary cap space the club has — means they have a very different view of Shields’ worth.
Rosenhaus had the benefit of feeling out other teams’ interest while at the recent scouting combine and may have found there will be multiple teams making a run at Shields. Also, the news Friday that the salary cap was increasing $10 million to $133 million may have convinced him more teams will be willing to spend in free agency and he can easily get more than what the Packers are offering.
Barring any resumption of negotiations and meeting of the minds, the sides will let the market decide where Shields lands. Starting March 8, Rosenhaus can negotiate with any team in the NFL, but Shields cannot sign a contract until 3 p.m. March 11.
There’s risk on both sides if Shields hits the open market
The number of high-quality free-agent cornerbacks available may affect how much interest Shields receives. Among those who will be available barring any pre-free agency deals are Miami’s Brent Grimes, New England’s Aqib Talib, Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner, Indianapolis’ Vontae Davis and Denver’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Shields could be relegated to the secondary phase of free agency, which comes after the big spenders feast on the top-rated players. If Shields can get a better offer than what Green Bay has on the table then his strategy will have paid off.
But if the market isn’t good, he may have to settle on a worse deal than what the Packers are offering him now.
One NFL source familiar with the Packers’ front office predicted their offer was in the range of $6 million to $7 million per year, which is slightly below the $8.25 million average veteran Packers cornerback Tramon Williams receives. If Shields can top that, the Packers may stick with their assessment of his value and just wave goodbye.
But re-signing Shields is a priority for the Packers because they don’t know for sure that fourth-year pro Davon House is capable of starting and would be reluctant to put third-year pro Casey Hayward outside because even though he is the same height as Shields (5 feet 11 inches), his arms aren’t as long and he doesn’t have a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash time.
Second-year cornerback Micah Hyde also doesn’t project as an outside corner because of a lack of speed.
The Packers should have a shot at two or three of the highest-rated cornerbacks in the draft, a group that includes Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller. But rookies are no sure thing and Green Bay could wind up without a good replacement for Shields.
Another possibility for replacing Shields would be renting a veteran such as Grimes or Talib for a year or two while a draft choice develops. Thompson has been reluctant to sign veteran free agents, but with his pockets stuffed with salary cap money, this could be the year he takes a chance.