Packers Annual Checkup: Sam Shields

Sam Shields, cornerback

FOX Sports Wisconsin's Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. You can find every report here.

Season stats (playoffs included): 16 games, 16 starts (945 snaps; 76.2 percent of total defensive snaps), 44 tackles, 12 missed tackles, zero sacks, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, zero forced fumbles, one penalty committed, eight stops (solo tackles that resulted in offensive failure); targeted 86 times in coverage, allowing 44 receptions for 701 yards and five touchdowns season rating: Minus-3.3 (ranked No. 15 out of 24 Packers defensive players; ranked No. 67 out of 110 among NFL cornerbacks)
Best game: Week 6 win over Miami (played 35 of 60 snaps); zero interceptions, two passes defensed, zero tackles, zero missed tackles; targeted three times in coverage, allowing one reception for one yard; 3.1 PFF rating

Worst game: Week 14 win against Atlanta (played 46 of 68 snaps); zero interceptions, zero passes defensed, two tackles, zero missed tackles; targeted eight times in coverage, allowing four receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown; minus-3.2 PFF rating

Expectations at the start of the season: Medium

Expectations were ...  Met

Looking live: Sam Shields cashed in as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. As his asking price got higher and higher, the Packers stayed involved in the bidding and retained their starting cornerback on a four-year, $39 million ($12.5 million guaranteed) contract. It was a rare instance of Ted Thompson seemingly extending beyond his financial comfort zone in order to avoid losing a player he valued. A year later, the ramifications of giving Shields so much money was Green Bay not re-signing either Tramon Williams or Davon House. With an investment of that size in Shields, the Packers opted not to leave their financial comfort zone to keep Williams or House from leaving.

It comes with the territory that Mike McCarthy now classified Shields as a "core player," which brought about new responsibilities for the then-26-year-old player. "There's certain things the coaches want you to do now," Shields said in June 2014. "You've got to be that guy to help out the defense."

There was a lot of confidence within the organization that Shields would live up to his new contract.

"He needs to be a top-level corner in every aspect of the game, and he has that ability," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said during the 2014 offseason. "Sam's best football is still in front of him. I honestly believe he has two more years of ascending and then he's going to play at that level for another four years. That's six years of just really good football ahead of him. And by then he's 32, he might have more. I see two more years of getting better and four more of holding that type of high quality play."

Shields was No. 12 on's "Most Important Packers of 2014" series. I wrote at the time that Shields was ranked at that spot "because he can't take a step back now that he's a very wealthy man. The Packers need him to at least be as good as he's been in recent years, though the team would clearly love it if he continued improving. Green Bay has good depth at cornerback, but the importance of Shields locking down one of the outside corner spots will go a long way in how far the team gets this season."

Upon further review: McCarthy believed that now that Shields is a core player that the well-paid cornerback will "step up and play accordingly." While Shields had a fine 2014 season, he didn't play like one of the 10 best cornerbacks in the NFL. His new salary made among the 10 highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. That's the downfall of averaging $9.75 million per season. Expectations are raised to a level that some players will struggle to reach.

Shields had his second interception of the season Week 6 in Miami, a game in which he was clearly excited to be back playing in his college town. Though Shields exited that game early with a knee injury, it was still him performing to his maximum ability when he was out there.

Shields' value to Green Bay's defense was perhaps best displayed when he missed the Week 8 game at New Orleans. With Shields and Morgan Burnett out against Drew Brees and the Saints, the Packers' secondary got lit up. New Orleans had touchdown passes of 50, 45 and 22 yards. Would that still have happened if Shields was on the field? We'll never know, but the argument could easily be made that Shields' absence was clearly a big difference in the game.

Shields went through a stretch from Weeks 13-15 where he didn't play well. That was most apparent Week 14 against Atlanta when Julio Jones went for 259 yards and led to Shields spending the final 10:38 of the game on the bench. Davon House came in for Shields and used his more physical approach to slow down Jones.
Shields ended the season on a high note, performing very well Week 17 against Detroit and in both playoff games. Facing Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson, Shields was credited by ProFootballFocus as allowing a total of only five receptions for 72 yards and no touchdowns.

Overall 2014 grade: B-minus

Status for 2015: One-hundred percent chance of being on the Packers' active roster to begin the 2015 regular season. Shields has three years remaining on his contract and a $9 million cap hit in 2015. But unlike last season, Shields will no longer have Williams or House to support him. Casey Hayward will be asked to step up into a much bigger role, which makes it even more critical for Shields to consistently perform at a high level. It's Shields' show now. He might be asked to cover opposing offense's No. 1 wide receivers on a regular basis, especially while Hayward gets comfortable on the outside. There will only be a few players on Green Bay's roster who will be more important to the Packers' success in 2015 than Shields.

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