For the second straight week, Sam Shields has been absent from OTAs. The fourth-year cornerback has yet to sign his RFA tender or commit to a long term extension with Green Bay. As a result, Shields isn't expected to participate in these practices which has caused many Packers fans to raise pitchforks.
Aggravating concerns is the memory of another Green Bay cornerback's absence. In 2004, Mike McKenzie demanded a new contract despite only being two seasons into a five year deal. Then Packers general manager and head coach Mike Sherman, fearing that concession would hurt his ability to control his players, refused to meet McKenzie's demands. Irritated by this approach, McKenzie changed his demand to a trade. The rift lasted through mid-September when the team reluctantly conceded and traded him to New Orleans. The dispute is McKenzie's lasting memory in Green Bay, and Shields' absence has unfairly been characterized in a similar light.
But how worried should fans really be about Sam Shields?
As of now, the answer is not very. This absence has been characterized a holdout by many, though that's inaccurate. A holdout requires a player still under contract to withhold services. As Shields has no contract to speak of, his situation cannot fit the term. Furthermore, OTAs are technically voluntary. While the majority of players do attend, it's not unheard of for veterans not to report.
More importantly, the Packers and Shields have reportedly been in negotiations for some time. Shields' contract, understandably, was placed on the backburner for several months while Green Bay worked on extensions for their franchise quarterback and field-tilting pass rusher. With those two deals now signed, Shields is now a top priority.
In order for the Packers to lock Shields up for a long term deal, he cannot sign his RFA tender. Under the CBA, contracts signed or altered within the last 12 months cannot be renegotiated. Signing the tender is the equivalent of signing a one-year deal. In other words, if Shields signs his tender, the Packers won't get another chance to sign Shields to a long term deal until he's an unrestricted free agent. If Shields were to reach unrestricted free agency, all of Green Bay's leverage is gone. At that juncture, Shields will likely depart for a bigger contract.
Shields also hasn't yet reached the breaking point for missed practices. Should Shields return for training camp, he won't be irreparably behind his peers. His absence has allowed for slot corner Casey Hayward to gain experience lining up outside. However, the Packers need a corner with elite speed to cover the Calvin Johnsons, Julio Joneses, and Dez Bryants of the NFL. No other defensive back on the Packers possesses Shields speed. Unless Shields' absence lasts deep into training camp, his spot as a starting corner shouldn't be in jeopardy.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn