Despite new deal, Sam Shields looks to stay grounded

Green Bay — The financials had finally been agreed upon. The ink on Sam Shields' new four-year, $39 million contract had barely dried.

And Shields made a beeline for his Realtor.

The house his parents — Sam Jr. and Michelle — lived in was certainly serviceable. It was the house where Shields was raised in Sarasota, Fla.

But as Shields put it: "The house was getting old."

So Shields bought his parents — who have been together since junior high school — something nicer. Same town, different digs.

"It's a nice two-story house, nothing fancy," Shields said. "That was my goal, especially for my Mom, to get her something new."

After that, Shields was done spending.

No indulgences for himself. No splurging on anyone else.

You see, Shields — the Packers' fastest player, but an undrafted free agent back in 2010 — reached this point through hard work and by bucking the odds. Now, even though Shields is one of the NFL's highest paid cornerbacks, he wants everything in his life to remain the same — or as close to it as possible.

"If you just go and do the same thing you've been doing, staying humble, staying the person like you've been and keep making plays, doing what you're supposed to do, things will work out," Shields said. "I don't want anything to change, really. I don't want it to be different, even though the money is different."

Tramon Williams can certainly relate.

Williams himself went undrafted in 2006, then traveled a long and bumpy path to NFL stardom. Williams was eventually given a four-year, $41.25 million contract extension that ends after this season.

Despite the big money, Williams did all he could to keep his life as similar as possible.

"From my standpoint, when I went through it all, I don't think anything really changed much, and that was a good thing," Williams said. "All of my friends, all of my relatives, everyone close to me, everyone's doing stuff for themselves so it was never to that point with me where I had to worry about outsiders.

"If you're asking me can he still live the same way he has? Yes he can."

That would bode well for the Packers, who have watched Shields go from a training camp long shot in 2010 to their fifth-highest-paid player today.

There are obviously more zeros on Shields' paycheck these days than there were four summers ago. But the 26-year-old Shields is doing all he can to stay as humble and grounded as the player who surprised many by simply making the roster back in 2010.

"Those were nervous times," Shields said. "I was really nervous, but I just kept faith. Just kept going, doing what I was supposed to do, making plays.

"That's the main thing coaches want to see is guys making plays, making things stand out. That was my whole focus that year, just making something stand out to the coaches. I did that in the preseason games that year and just kept the faith. They made a good decision and, hey, it worked out good."

It sure has.

Shields made six starts as Green Bay's nickelback his rookie year and played in 14 games altogether. Then in the NFC championship game, Shields had two interceptions, a sack and forced a fumble.

Shields took a step back in 2011, struggling with tackling and allowing 4½ touchdown passes. The former wide receiver at the University of Miami was clearly at a crossroads in his young career.

But Shields responded in a big way.

In 2012, Shields missed six games with an ankle injury, yet still finished second on the team with five interceptions. Shields' tackling improved dramatically, and he allowed just 2½ touchdown passes after giving up nine total during his first two seasons.

Then a year ago, the Packers felt comfortable enough with Shields to have him shadow standout wide receivers such as Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Shields also had a memorable interception in Dallas that might have saved Green Bay's season.

He finished the year with four interceptions, 16 passes defensed and 61 tackles. Shields still cheats too much, and gets caught peeking in the backfield. But his remarkable closing speed bails him out of trouble others could never escape.

"It's been a long road getting here, definitely tough," said Shields, who has three children back in Sarasota. "But I stuck through it, definitely fought and never gave up. There were some bumpy roads, but I got through those bumpy roads. Just never gave up and kept going."

Now, as Shields goes into his fifth season, he'll be counted on more than ever.

Today, Shields is the NFL's eighth-highest paid cornerback. And Green Bay needs him to play to that level.

The Packers ranked 24th in passing defense last year and 25th in total defense. Shields is one of the building blocks Green Bay is counting on to reverse those numbers.

"He's definitely a guy we're counting on for great things," Williams said. "He's still a young guy who's only going to get better. That's exciting for everyone."

Shields would prefer things don't change outside football. And perhaps they won't.

On the field, though, Shields knows he still has room to grow. And if positive changes keep coming, there's no telling what the future might bring.

"I think I've got a lot of great football in front of me," he said. "But I just need to be smart and do things the way I've always done them."

"Make sure I don't get in trouble in the off-season, just staying clean all the way around. If I keep doing that, keep making plays and helping this team win, everything will be fine."

Which would be music to the Packers' ears.

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