Packers have to consider moving on from concussed Sam Shields next year

With Sam Shields on injured reserve with his fourth concussion in six years, the Packers may have to consider long-term alternatives at cornerback. Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sam Shields missed a month last season after his head slammed into the turf and he blacked out. He'll miss three times that long, at minimum, from his second concussion in nine months and his fourth in the last six seasons now that the Green Bay Packers placed their No. 1 cornerback on injured reserve.

Yes, Shields plans to play football again despite his concussion history. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed that to ESPN.com after his client's Instagram post suggested as much on Tuesday, when the Packers decided to officially shut him down for at least the next eight weeks. He hasn't played since the regular-season opener. At the earliest, Shields could return to practice in six weeks and then play two weeks later against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 11 if the Packers use their one-time, designated-to-return slot on him.

There's also the possibility that Shields has played his last game for the Packers, the team that signed him as undrafted free agent in 2010, turned him into their best cover man and gave him a four-year, $39 million contract in 2014.

Shields, who will turn 29 on Dec. 8, has one year left on that deal. He'll make $8,531,250 this season even if he never plays another down. Next season, he's scheduled to make $9 million in base salary and bonuses.

When healthy, Shields' high level of play makes that a viable contract. But he's been on the field for only two of the Packers' last 10 games, dating to last season and including playoffs, and the risk of another concussion -- and another extended absence -- might force the Packers to cut ties with Shields before next season.

Publicly, the Packers haven't discussed anything about Shields' future beyond this season. Privately, however, there's a feeling from at least some in the organization that it's time to move on even if Shields is eventually cleared. It would likely mean drafting another cornerback next season to go along with the stable of young corners they already have on the roster.

"The plan for Sam is to get him healthy, number one," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. "It's going to be longer than we might expected, so it's just going off the last conversation I've had with Sam. It's just important to go one day at a time and make sure we get him healthy."

If they moved on from Shields after this season, the Packers would pick up $9 million salary-cap space next season because his entire salary and bonuses would be wiped off their books and only $3.125 million -- the annual signing-bonus proration -- would count on their cap. His cap charge for next season is currently $12.125 million. A pay cut also is possible.

Perhaps Shields would change his thinking if he's not cleared to return this season, but at this point walking away from the game for health reasons doesn't appear to be in his plans.

"He wants to be out there," said Packers defensive back Micah Hyde, whose locker is right next Shields'. "He's come in here plenty of times saying, ‘I want to play, I want to play,' but obviously he's just not ready yet."

Hyde said Shields has been around the team and has maintained an upbeat attitude during the whole process, and the two friends have not discussed the possibility that it's a career-ending injury.

"I haven't really talked to him about timetable and coming back and if he should play or not," Hyde said. "But if I was in his shoes, I would definitely think about the return and whether I would want to or not because the number of concussions he's had. That's serious."