What Sam Shields' Release Means for the Packers

Sam Shields is now a former member of the Green Bay Packers, released by the team earlier today. Shields’ release potentially throws an already troubled cornerback group even further into disarray, so let’s take a look at the implications of his departure.

Cornerback now an even bigger offseason priority

For the second time in as many years, the Packers may find themselves taking a cornerback in the first round. The only players on the roster now with significant cornerback experience are Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Ladarius Gunter, and if the NFC Championship is any indication, that’s not going to cut it against top-flight competition. The Packers will likely have to expend significant draft capital to address their secondary’s shortcomings.

It’s also possible that this move could force the Packers into the free agent market, although as we’ve explored before, the cornerbacks that are likely going to be available won’t be game changers for the Packers. That may not matter any more, though, because at this point, the Packers are starting to just need bodies.

It's worth noting that the Packers will have plenty of money to spend, should they decide to jump into free agency. Shields' release clears an addition $8 million in cap space, giving the Packers an estimated $43 million of space beneath the cap.

Shields could be done for good

Though I’d caution against reading anything into Instagram hashtags, Shields did say several interesting things in his post announcing his release. Shields expressed frustration with the Packers (#StillMad) and a desire to retire as a member of the Packers (#AtleastLetMeRetireFromThePack), which seems to indicate that retirement was at least a possibility in his mind.

Shields went on to say that he’s not sure if he can play with another team (#ICantPlayWithAnybodyElse), although that doesn’t indicate whether he’s physically unable to play or whether he just wouldn’t want to suit up for someone other than the Packers. He ultimately says he’s done (#ImDone), but again, it’s not clear if that’s for good or just with Green Bay.

Shields also pointed out that his health was improving (#IWasGettingBetter), but he had said that before, also indicating that he was still experiencing post-concussion headaches. Where in that process of “getting better” Shields actually was isn’t clear.

Finally, Shields calls out three specific members of the Packers’ management and coaching staff in his post: Ted Thompson (#TedThompson), Russ Ball (#RussBall) and Mike McCarthy (the hilariously misspelled #MikeMcCarty). It’s not clear why Shields tagged these people.

Ted Thompson’s decision on Casey Hayward gets another look

Whether you agree with the decision to move on from Hayward or not, Shields’ ultimately fragile health paints it in a different light. Thompson bet big on both Shields’ health and the development of his young corners, and Shields’ injury ultimately meant both of those bets ended badly.

Did Thompson overestimate Shields’ ability to stay healthy? Should he have kept Hayward around to ensure depth and continuity in the secondary? Both are legitimate questions, and become much harder to answer in a positive light for Thompson now that Shields’ career in Green Bay is over.

Joe Whitt, your time is now

Joe Whitt Jr. is a fantastic coach. Mike McCarthy has said it, we’ve said it, and the Packers’ results with undrafted rookie players speaks volumes about his work. If there’s any time the Packers have needed Whitt’s magic, it’s now.

Randall, Rollins, and Gunter all took huge steps back in 2016, and Shields’ absence likely played a big part in that. Each of the three had to take on bigger roles than anticipated, and each of them came up short in their own ways. Now that Shields’ is permanently shelved, their responsibilities have permanently increased. The Packers need to get more from their young corners in 2017, and Whitt will be a big part of whether or not that happens.