GREEN BAY – On the cusp of unrestricted free agency, it appears both cornerback Sam Shields and outside linebacker Mike Neal avoided serious knee injuries during the Green Bay Packers’ season-ending NFC Wild Card Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Shields, who injured his left knee on the Packers’ second defensive snap, and Neal, who departed a few plays later with a right knee injury, are both in line for potentially big payoffs in free agency, from the Packers or another team, after emerging this season.
ESPN.com, ProFootballTalk.com and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel all reported that Shields suffered only a bone bruise and avoided damage to any of the vital ligaments in his knee. Shields became the Packers’ best cover corner in 2013, playing in 14 of 16 regular-season games and registering a team-high four interceptions. An undrafted free agent from Miami (Fla.) in 2010, Shields stayed away for part of the Packers’ offseason program in hopes of getting a long-term deal but settled for a one-year, $2.023 million restricted free-agent tender.
According to Pro Football Focus, Shields played 902 snaps this season and allowed 42 completions on 84 targets for 664 yards while allowing four touchdowns and breaking up 12 passes (72.7 opponent passer rating).
Shields was not in the Packers’ locker room during Monday’s final availability session.
“Sam’s been a big part of this defense. A playmaker for this defense. And we need him around,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said. “He’s taken the same path that I have in to the league as an undrafted guy. He continues to get better so we definitely need him around.”
Neal, meanwhile, was on his way to have an MRI done on his knee but said he had been told that there was no significant structural damage. Neal made a successful conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker and finished the season with five sacks and an interception along with 60 tackles. But the most important number was 17: After being dogged by injury his first three NFL seasons, played in all 17 games the Packers played this year.
“(The knee) is nothing bad. The ACL is intact. From everything I can tell, everything else is intact,” Neal said. “We’re going to do an MRI today, and who knows? I don’t think it’s anything real bad. It’s just sore, stiff. No swelling. So hopefully it’s just an MCL or something like that, one of those things that will heal on its own and I’ll be good.”
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