- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sam Shields was all set to board a plane for Cleveland, Ohio, the minute NFL free agency was scheduled to open on March 11.
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, had been talking to the Browns -- among other teams -- early in the three-day negotiating period before teams could visit or sign with new teams.
That's how close the Green Bay Packers came to losing perhaps their best cornerback.
Shields said Tuesday, in his first interview since signing a four-year, $39 million deal to return to the Packers, that things would have happened quickly with the Browns -- and perhaps other teams -- had he not come to terms with the Packers.
But it never came to that.
"Most of the time I was scared because, like I said, I wanted to be a Packer," Shields said. "You know how that business goes. It's kind of scary at first, but they came with it. I'm happy to be back."
Although the final week of negotiations was frantic, it a yearlong process that last offseason saw Shields skip all the voluntary workouts while Rosenhaus tried to get a long-term deal done with the Packers. The agent even flew to Green Bay last June before the team's mandatory minicamp, but he left a meeting with the Packers only to see Shields sign his $2.023 million restricted free-agent tender.
And then Shields turned in the best season of his four-year career, which began unceremoniously as an undrafted free agent, setting him up for a deal that made him the fifth-highest paid cornerback in the NFL based on his $9.75 million average per year. His signing bonus was $12.5 million.
Not bad for someone who did not play cornerback until his senior year at the University of Miami, where he played his first three years as a receiver.
"I'm really happy because Sam's best football is still in front of him," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "I honestly believe he has two more years of ascending and then he's going to play at that level for another four years. That's six years of just really good football ahead of him and by then he's 32. He might have more, I don't know what he's going to have after that, but I see two more years of getting better and four more of holding that type of high-quality play."
If there's any fear that the first big long-term contract -- Shields' original rookie deal contained just a $7,500 signing bonus -- will impede the progress that Whitt sees for him, Shields insisted it would not. That he has been in Green Bay for all of the voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) is one tangible sign that it won't.
Another might be the fact that he said his only major purchase since his new deal was a house in Florida -- not for him, but for his mother.
"It's like I tell everybody, it's just the beginning," Shields said. "Like I said, I'm going to keep continuing to work my butt off, make plays and hopefully down the line get another one. It's just the beginning."