Sam Shields' contract status inspires hunger games

Green Bay — The harness is off and the swagger is on. For Davon House, it's back to playing like a "(bleep)hole," as he put it last season.

In bold letters, House assured he's healthy and he plans to start in 2013.

"To me," House said, "if you think I did good last year then you have a whole other thing coming."

Looking back, if House didn't suffer a left shoulder subluxation in the preseason opener, he probably starts Week 1 at cornerback. Not Sam Shields. Instead, Shields started, finished strong and is now flirting with a long-term deal. Yet still, this 10-minute scene from Donald Driver's charity softball game — House's words marinated with vinegar — is exactly the climate the Packers hoped to build this off-season.

Shields wasn't paid. Neither was B.J. Raji. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith? He's in the waiting room, too. After shelling out millions to two players, the Packers hit the brakes. Don't assume it's by accident, either. Money, always, is a motivator. In 2013, general manager Ted Thompson has several key starters entering contract years.

Financial uncertainty hangs over Shields, Raji, Dietrich-Smith and others.

So, no, the Packers won't be too upset if House or anyone else at those respective positions talks a mean game. Every coach alive trumpets the merits of camp competition — the need to create it, nurture it and make it contagious.

In Green Bay, Thompson can simply wave a checkbook.

The last time the Packers skated through a season with so many core starters seeking long-term deals was 2010. That team was stocked with underpaid players. A.J. Hawk, Cullen Jenkins, Tramon Williams, Daryn Colledge, John Kuhn, Desmond Bishop all delivered in contract years and the Packers won a Super Bowl.

Coincidence or not, Green Bay wouldn't mind a repeat in 2013.

So far, the players entering contract years have been echoing themselves.

After one off-season practice, Jermichael Finley bit his tongue at every turn. Moments after Mike McCarthy praised the tight end for adding weight, the typically talkative, always-colorful Finley wouldn't so much as say how much he weighs. As a Green Bay public relations official leaned into the group interview, Finley kept it G-rated.

"I feel strong right now, healthy," Finley said. "I feel confident. I'm just excited."

Behind the scenes, Green Bay has not always been thrilled with Finley's candidness. With hesitation, Thompson and Russ Ball agreed to keep Finley at $8.25 million this season. And while we can debate how harmful Finley's comments actually are — note: Brian Urlacher is not on an NFL team — that first media session hinted at a tamer, quieter tight end.

On another day, Dietrich-Smith refused to acknowledge the obvious.

Yeah, he's the starter. If he picks up where he left off in 2012, he will be for a while, too. But the restricted free agent also received the one-year, $1.323 million tender, a low-ball risk by the Packers. At this level, he said, you can't assume anything.

"It doesn't matter who you are," Dietrich-Smith said. "If you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, you could be the next guy out the door. I don't take anything for granted. Every opportunity I get, I have to prove myself."

Raji spoke at length about the importance of getting off of blocks and said he's "confident everything will take care of itself."

James Jones won't be coasting any time soon. Two years ago, he swung and missed (badly) in free agency. Teams were brutally honest with Jones' agent, saying they didn't want to pay the receiver because of his rash of drops in 2010.

Since then, Jones has had the best hands on the team.

And across the oval-shaped locker room, Shields' space was vacant through the first round of OTAs. The restricted free agent hoped to flip his five interceptions over the final seven games into a lucrative deal. Thompson wouldn't flinch, so Shields signed. Once he did return to Green Bay from Florida, the Packer message was obvious.

"I just have to ball out this year," Shields said, "and then we'll go from there."

True, with Rodgers and Matthews the richest players at their positions, Green Bay will not be able to re-sign all of the above long term. Decisions await. But for now, by showing restraint at the negotiating table, Thompson should have several players hungry for a pay raise.

Rings, trophies and legacies are absolutely motivators. But seven, eight figures isn't bad, either.

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