Green Bay Packers: Darrelle Revis

On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The rehabilitation of the Green Bay Packers’ defense is still in its early stages, but they no longer have to worry about their cornerbacks.

[+] EnlargeSam Shields
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsLocking up Sam Shields means the Packers are set at cornerback and can focus on other parts of the defense.
By re-signing Sam Shields on Saturday to a four-year, $39 million contract, Packers general manager Ted Thompson now can focus on restoring the other parts of the defense to what they were early in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ tenure.

All along, Shields was the Packers’ top free-agent priority after finishing the best season of his career in 2013. At 26, the Packers believe he is an ascending player whose speed won’t leave him any time soon.

Shields did not come cheap. Over the first three years of the contract, he is expected to make $30 million (including $15 million this season). Among cornerbacks currently under contract for 2014, Shields would be the second-highest paid at his position behind only Darrelle Revis ($16 million) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It also means, barring any change in Tramon Williams’ status, the Packers will shell out $22.5 million to their starting cornerbacks this season. Williams is scheduled to earn $7.5 million ($6.9 million base salary and $600,000 in bonuses) this season.

With the expected return of Casey Hayward from last season’s hamstring problems, the Packers have to feel good about their cornerbacks.

And Thompson still has enough money and salary-cap space to use on what could be a significant overhaul to the defensive depth chart.

All three of the Packers’ starting defensive linemen are scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday. B.J. Raji is mulling a one-year deal to return as a nose tackle, while Ryan Pickett’s agent, Kennard McGuire, said Saturday that he plans to stay in contact with the Packers throughout free agency. The other defensive line starter, Johnny Jolly, is awaiting clearance from his doctors after undergoing neck fusion surgery. Pickett and Jolly likely could be had for low- to moderately-priced deals.

With Shields in the fold, perhaps the biggest issue facing Thompson is the safety position. There’s been no indication that he plans to offer M.D. Jennings a restricted free agent tender, and the Packers know they need to upgrade that position.

For now, though, Capers and his staff have to feel better about their secondary knowing Shields will return. Several times last season, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt acknowledged that while the defense, which finished last season ranked 25th in the league, did not play up to its standards as a whole, the same could not be said for Shields.

“You can’t take that away from him,” Whitt said late in the season.

“He’s trying to make that next step to: can he be in the conversation with some of the those top corners that are out there?” Whitt added.

And now he will be paid like one of them.

Williams expects to return next season

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
11:30
AM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams did not want to hear the question.

Before it had even been completed, he interrupted.

"Don't do it," Williams said with a smile. "Don't do it."

Williams
The seventh-year veteran is savvy enough to know what was coming. He's at an age (30) and has a contract (due to pay him $7.5 million in salary and bonuses next season, the final year of his deal) that makes him an easy target. He's just the kind of player whom general manager Ted Thompson usually takes a long, hard look at bringing back.

"That's the reality of some things, like you said," Williams said this week. "But truthfully, I can't worry about that. I'm under contract for next year, so I plan on being here."

In the last month, Williams has stated his case -- not verbally, but with his play. He has two interceptions in the last four games and during that stretch, he has not allowed a touchdown and his tackling has been superb. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Williams has allowed just 8 total yards after the catch on six opponent receptions against him over the last three games. He allowed three completions in last Sunday's 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but none went for longer than 8 yards.

Williams has bounced between playing outside in the base defense and inside in the nickel and dime packages for much of the season. Against the Falcons, defensive coordinator Dom Capers returned Williams to his natural outside position for the entire game.

However, Capers no longer matches Williams exclusively on the opponent's best receiver like he used to. Fellow cornerback Sam Shields spent as much time (if not more) covering Atlanta's top receiver, Roddy White, as Williams did Sunday.

"You know we've been playing Tramon inside," Capers said. "I think he's a more natural outside player."

Shields is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and general manager Ted Thompson is trying to decide whether to pay Shields somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million per season. That could be another factor that might impact Williams' future.

If his contract remains unchanged for next season, Williams would be tied for the fifth-highest paid cornerback in the NFL based on players currently under contract for next season. He would rank behind only Tampa Bay's Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Denver's Champ Bailey ($10 million), the Jets' Antonio Cromartie ($9.5 million) and St. Louis' Cortland Finnegan ($9 million).

ProFootballFocus.com, which grades every play of every game, has Williams ranked as the NFL's 16th-best cornerback this season among those who have played at least 75 percent of the snaps. In pass coverage only, PFF ranked Williams 11th but based on opposing quarterbacks' passer rating against him in coverage, Williams ranks 22nd.

Williams has watched the Packers go to a veteran like A.J. Hawk for a pay cut or contract restructuring twice in the last three years, so he knows it might be coming.

"It's part of the business," Williams said. "But like I said, I'm under contract so I expect to be here."

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