With the first deadline for NFL offseason contract negotiations closing in, the Green Bay Packers remain in talks with cornerback Sam Shields.
This weekend marks a leverage point for teams’ most-valued impending free agents, such as Shields is with the Packers, because 3 p.m. (CST) Monday is the deadline for clubs to use their franchise tag. Until then, teams and agents can use the possibility of the franchise tag as leverage to get a deal done.
Shields probably would be the Packers’ most-coveted free agent if he hits the open market. An NFL source said the Packers and Shields’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, have been in talks this week to possibly keep the cornerback off the market.
The Packers have given no indication as to whether they’ll use the franchise tag on Shields, but that possibility might be better leverage for Shields than for the team as the deadline nears because the cost of the tag is high. Though the NFL won’t announce the tag tenders until it reveals the official salary cap limit, which is expected by Monday at the latest, the cost for cornerbacks is expected to be slightly more than the $10.8 million tender last year.
The Packers have more than enough salary-cap room to tag Shields — multiple reports Friday said the cap is expected to be $133 million this season, which means the Packers will have about $35 million in cap space. But a tender of $11 million or so likely is more than the Packers want to pay Shields for only a one-year commitment, so it’s not a given they’d actually use the tag on him.
The tag deadline already has helped lead to the signings late this week of Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta, San Diego linebacker Donald Butler and Philadelphia left tackle Jason Peters. Friday, the New York Jets tagged kicker Nick Folk and Carolina tagged defensive end Greg Hardy, according to the NFL transactions wire.
Shields will be among the most attractive cornerbacks available if he hits the market. At age 26 and a relative newcomer to cornerback — he switched from receiver for his senior year in college — he’s still a young and ascending player.
He probably will command a contract similar to or perhaps even slightly better than teammate Tramon Williams, who in 2010 signed a five-year deal that averages $7 million a season.