Yesterday, the NFL finally set its salary cap for the 2014 season at $133 Million. With that number finally set, Franchise and Transition Tag values can be determined for each position. We'll take a look at the values for cornerbacks to see if this affects whether or not the Packers will tag Sam Shields.
First, though, we need to take a look at the status of the contract negotiations between Shields and the team. Adam Schefter just tweeted out some disappointing news this morning:
Packers and CB Sam Shields will not have a deal done before free agency starts and Shields will test market. Still could return to GB later.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 1, 2014
After reports of progress during the NFL Scouting Combine and in recent days, it seems like talks have stalled out at this point and Shields appears poised to see what his market value is. The Packers of course have one way of preventing him from doing so, and that would be to use the Franchise or Transition tag on him.
At this point, Shields looks like the only Packer who could conceivably be given a tag. The team sounds ready to allow B.J. Raji to hit free agency, and since they took an $8 million per year deal off the table in 2013, they aren't likely to pay him Franchise money in the amount of nearly $10 million. Before the season, tight end Jermichael Finley was considered a possible Franchise tag target, but his neck injury and subsequent surgery has taken that option off the table.
Thus, Shields has no viable competition for a tag from Ted Thompson and company, as the team can only use one tag each year. According to Overthecap.com, the franchise tag number for a cornerback will be $11,834,000, a slight increase from the previous estimate when the cap was expected to be around $126 million. If the Packers were to use the Transition Tag instead, that would pay Shields $10.08 million instead. Remember that in 2013, Shields played under a Restricted Free Agent offer sheet that paid him just over $2 million, so receiving either tag would increase his compensation by $8 million or more.
With the $133 million cap, the Packers have an estimated $35 million in cap room, so using a Franchise Tag on Shields would leave them with just over $23 million left. Adding in the rookie draft picks, whom we estimated would add an extra $2 million or so, giving the team about $21 million to work with. That money would obviously go to re-signing a few free agents and extending Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and others. Naturally, the Transition Tag would leave the team with an additional $1.75 million in cap room compared to the Franchise Tag, giving the team almost $23 million to work with.
The question then becomes which tag would be ideal, and the Transition Tag has had major issues in the past. Other teams could offer Shields a contract, and the Packers would have the right to match, but would get no compensation if they chose not to. Though the ability to include "poison pills" in the contracts has been outlawed in the new CBA, the Steve Hutchinson deal in 2006 remains a black eye for the league. In that situation, the Vikings made an offer to Hutchinson (who had been Transition Tagged by the Seahawks) which effectively would have forced Seattle to make his entire contract guaranteed.
Thus, it seems likely that if Shields were to get tagged at all, it would be with the Franchise Tag.
A long-term contract is of course the ideal situation for the Packers, as it would give the team more cap flexibility by lowering Shields' annual cap number while also giving the player the added stability of a long-term deal. However, the team would still have over $21 million in usable 2014 cap room even if they use the Franchise Tag on Shields.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel does not think the Packers will tag Shields, though:
No way #Packers use the franchise/transition tag on Shields. If they were willing to pay $11M, they would have gotten a long-term deal done.— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) March 1, 2014
If that is indeed the case, expect the team to still be aggressive in their attempts to re-sign Shields.