GREEN BAY - Almost two full seasons after his career met a premature end, former Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields is back in the NFL.
Shields, 30, signed with the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday, the team announced. He’ll be part of their 90-man roster, with a shot at earning a spot on the 53 in training camp.
Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Shields was taking free-agent visits to the Rams as well as the Cleveland Browns.
Shields has not played a down since leaving the field near the end of the Packers' season opener at Jacksonville on Sept. 11, 2016. He sustained a concussion — the fifth documented in his career — when his helmet contacted running back T.J. Yeldon’s shoulder pad.
It was Shields’ second severe concussion within a 10-month span, and because it happened on a routine play, medical experts at that time feared the frequency and ease at which concussions were occurring threatened his career. Days after Shields’ concussion, Dr. Vernon Williams of Kerland-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology, a consulting team physician with the Rams, outlined why Shields’ career was in jeopardy.
“If we see a pattern where each concussion takes longer to get better,” Williams told PackersNews.com in 2016, “the symptoms are more severe, or if we see a pattern where a person is more and more easily concussed. Like, if the first time it takes a big blow, an 80-G impact, a kickoff return where a person gets blown up and everybody in the stadium notices it. And then before long, there’s just kind of a routine hit, or a routine fall to the ground, and the person is concussed.
“If we see a pattern where it’s happening more and more easily, that’s concerning.”
Shields’ symptoms lingered through the end of the 2016 season. He sat out the entire 2017 season to “get my mind right” and focus on his personal life, he said last month. Shields said last month he no longer had headaches or other concussion symptoms.
There’s still a long way to go until Shields plays in a game. One scout told PackersNews.com that committing any significant investment to Shields would be challenging for a team because of his concussion history.
It’s hard to imagine Shields could sustain another concussion and continue playing, but few — if anyone — expected he’d ever get a chance on another NFL team after the Packers released him last spring.
“Sam’s situation is just unfortunate,” Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said at the NFLs owners meetings last spring. “Obviously, a great player. I think years ago, you had players whose careers would end due to concussions. I think for Sam, he just never cleared the protocol.
“Hopefully, he’s better now. You really want to make sure he has a good quality of life going forward.”
If he cracks the Rams’ 53-man roster, Shields also figures to face discipline from the league.
He was arrested Oct. 19, 2016 in Green Bay and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Shields pleaded no contest to the marijuana charge, and the paraphernalia charge was dropped.
In 2017, ESPN reported Shields faces a two-game suspension because of the incident. Shields said in an interview last month with the Journal Sentinel that he believes his suspension has already been served.
Regardless, Shields’ recovery has led him further than most would’ve thought, back into the NFL.