Decisions on Raji, Shields at hand for Packers’ GM, coach

Green Bay will be wise to let Raji walk, tag Shields
If Mike McCarthy truly intends to be more involved in his team’s defense this season, the Green Bay Packers’ head coach would be wise to start today. The best thing McCarthy could do for defensive coordinator Dom Capers is to somehow, some way convince General Manager Ted Thompson to re-sign cornerback Sam Shields. If that means placing the franchise tag on him before today’s deadline by all means get to it.
The Packers’ defense needs all the help it can get, and Shields is – or heaven forbid was – an integral part of a mostly beleaguered unit. Tramon Williams’ resurgence, Casey Hayward’s healthy return and Shields’ continued ascent would put the Packers’ secondary in perfect position to make a ton of plays this season. In fact, I’m confident enough to say that without knowing the safeties’ identities. But really, could they be worse? I can’t imagine. That much most everyone would agree on.
The problem is this: What if the Packers let Shields walk? If Thompson chooses not to use the franchise tag on Shields (the cornerback number is $11 million this year) it seems likely another team will move in and sign him to a fat contract. If that happens it means one of three things:

  • The Packers expect to address cornerback in free agency (but wouldn’t they have re-signed Shields?) or the draft (unlikely with their need for safety help);
  • They intend to place the franchise tag on nose tackle B.J. Raji or another of their unrestricted free agents, although I can’t believe the Packers would be so foolish as to tag Raji and no one else seems likely;
  • They feel that Hayward’s return, coupled with Micah Hyde’s move to safety, and perhaps mid- to late-round help in the draft, will be more than enough to compensate for Shields’ departure.

Frankly, I like none of those reasons for allowing Shields to walk, but let’s be honest: Which of these three seems the most likely?
That would be No. 3. The Packers’ lifeblood isn’t free agency. It never has been and it never will be under Thompson. However, if the Packers have a reported $33.5 million in salary cap space and elect not to use it on a rising star such as Shields, what does that say? It says just because the Packers are beneath the salary cap doesn’t mean they are going to use it to sign high-priced free agents.
Re-signing Raji would be a mistake, but play-making cornerbacks are worth every penny. Shields, an undrafted free agent, played for $2.01 million last season. The former University of Miami star is an excellent example of the Packers’ “draft and develop” philosophy.
It seems a major gaffe not to re-sign Shields. If not Shields, then who is worthy of the cap space? No one else on the roster comes to mind. McCarthy told reporters last week at the NFL Scouting Combine that he would “set the vision for the defense, (and) Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out.” Let’s hope that vision includes No. 37 making a lot of plays.
In other news, the Packers still have hopes that tight end Jermichael Finley will be playing for them this season. Finley took to Twitter on Monday to let everyone know his workouts are going great and that he’s going to come back in a big way. Finley’s determination shouldn’t be discounted. He is too talented a tight end to be dismissed too lightly. If the Packers aren’t going to spend money on Shields, they ought to direct it Finley’s way. 
Aaron Rodgers and the offense rely too heavily on the tight ends to not re-sign Finley, especially if he’s willing to do an incentive-heavy deal. In fact, I wouldn’t think it overkill to re-sign Finley and select a tight end in the early to middle rounds of the draft. It is that crucial to the team’s success, especially with the emergence of Eddy Lacy and a bona fide running game which sets up play action.
Two of the sweetest sounds to Packers’ fans ears: “Touchdown, Rodgers to Finley!” and “Interception by Shields.”
Packers’ fans can only hope.

Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.