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(Photo Courtesy of attitude sports)

Sam Shields Release Signals Changing World

This week, the Green Bay Packers released Sam Shields.  Shields was one of the best-undrafted successes of Ted Thompson’s regime.  Shields came out of the University of Miami as a wide receiver and made a smooth transition to cornerback.   He turned his success into a fruitful second contract and then rewarded the Packers with a Pro Bowl performance in 2014.

The release was a very bittersweet moment for Packers faithful.   The great play Shields put up on the field earned him the admiration of fans.  Shields was well beloved.  He was a player who made himself.  Shields started as something no one would even spend a draft pick on to a star.  Shields was the unquestioned leader of a defensive backfield that finished 2015 as the sixth-ranked defense in passing yards.  While fans love the top draft picks who prove themselves worthy of the praise, but the player that gets overlooked and flourishes gains so much more.

The Rise

Shields saw the field sparingly in his 2010 rookie campaign but ended up starting six games.  The two interceptions would end up being the lowest of any season he played until 2016.  2010 was also the only season where Shields had single digit passes defended.

Shields saw more and more starts in the next two seasons.  From 2013 through 2016 Shields started every game where he was healthy enough to play.  While Shields faced several injuries over the years, he played at full speed every game.  Shields was a fearless tackler and a strong leader.  When the Packers drafted two young cornerbacks in 2015, they exceeded expectations while under the leadership of Sam Shields.  These young plays, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, helped the Packers to a strong showing on pass defense.

The Last Play

In the fourth quarter of a Packers’ victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Sam Shields stepped up to tackle T.J. Yeldon.  On the play, Yeldon lowered his shoulder and drove that shoulder into Shields’ head.  Shields was slow to get up, and the Packers later confirmed that Shields went through the concussion protocol.  It now appears this was last play of Shields’ career in Green Bay.

Shields suffered five concussions during his seven-year career.  For a team as medically cautious as the Packers, this was far too much.  This is a team that never let Jermichael Finley or Nick Collins attempt comebacks.  The fact that concussion in week one kept Shields on the Injured Reserve was something that alarming.

The New Reality

Shields is not the first player to leave the game due to concussion concerns.  Still, this is a scenario where the team made the decision for the player.  When the Packers placed Shields on IR for a concussion, it gave fans pause.  Then, when the Packers designated Makinton Dorleant for return from the IR instead of Shields, fans were convinced that Shields was done.  The general feeling among fans, who loved and respected Shields, was that Shields needed to retire.  It was a movement of fans from thinking ill of players leaving for unseen injuries to a feeling among fans that Shields had to leave to save himself.  Packers fans have been nearly universal in their respect for Shields’ rise as well as their hope that Shields do not return to the field.

It became apparent from Shields’ Instagram release that he was not ready to be done.  He included a rather large list of hashtags including: #IWasGettingBetter, #AtleastLetMeRetireFromThePack, #BusinessIsBusiness, and #ThanksGreenBay.  The Packers made this call despite Shields hope that he might continue playing.  While Shields is unhappy about ending his career on someone else’s terms, it was truly the right thing to do.  The Packers made a call that teams might be asked to do from here on out.  It is exactly the sort of concern for players that fans have started demanding from the NFL.