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Packers ponder next moves after signing Shields

The Sports Xchange

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn’t waste any time throwing around some of the excess money the team had to start the new league year.

Rather than give agent Drew Rosenhaus any leeway to discuss his client with other teams when the three-day window for negotiating with impending free agents opened Saturday, the Packers pounced by locking up cornerback Sam Shields that same day.

The signing of Shields to a hefty four-year, $39 million contract became official Monday on the eve of the start of free agency.

“It was a blessing today to be able to actually sign back with my fam for a few more years but this only the beginning #gopack,” Shields tweeted Monday night.

That the watershed pact for Shields, a converted wide receiver with just four pro seasons under his belt at age 26, included a $12.5 million signing bonus and projected earnings of $15 million next season is no big deal for the Packers. Even with more than $5.5 million committed to Shields in the first year of his contract, Green Bay still has nearly $30 million at hand under the newly established $133 million salary cap.

What Thompson does next isn’t as predictable as his time-honored approach in past years, when he has more often than not sat out the early free-agent frenzy in March.

“Well, who knows?” Thompson said last month in his famously evasive manner.

While he may have just been giving lip service to the state of his dismal defense by defending the existing personnel when he talked at the NFL Scouting Combine, Thompson is no fool. He knows better than anyone changes have to be made on that side of the ball.

At what expense, however, is the burning question with money to burn.

“We like to have our own guys back, and if we can find value in the free-agent market to help us, we’ll do that, too,” Thompson said. “We’ll do whatever, as will the 31 other teams. They’re all going to go about this the same way.”

The Thompson way since becoming Green Bay’s GM in 2005 has been a mix of retention by re-signing key free agents and replenishment by loading up on prospects in the draft.

With the Shields signing out of the way, the Packers still have plenty of decisions to make in the coming days and weeks with 16 players set to hit the open market Tuesday afternoon as unrestricted free agents.

Defensive tackle B.J. Raji, tight end Jermichael Finley and receiver James Jones are the marquee names on the extensive list.

Talk in recent days of a return by former first-round draft pick Raji on a one-year deal apparently had been just a lot of grist for the rumor mill since no deal was imminent on the verge of free agency.

Jones, like Raji, also was poised to see what he might be able to command as a starting-caliber wideout who is in the shadows of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in Green Bay.

And, while head coach Mike McCarthy suggested at the combine that the team is in favor of bringing back Finley, it doesn’t figure to rush on doling out a new contract as it waits to see how he progresses in his rehab from spinal surgery last fall.

In the meantime, Thompson just might be ready to shock the NFL world and get a little spend-happy early in free agency if he simply can’t rely on the May draft alone to bolster the murky talent pool on the defensive line and at safety.