The Cleveland Browns are not hiding the fact that they are in the market for a cornerback.
The interest in Shields, who has been sidelined by a concussion since the first game of the 2016 season, shows just how big of a need corner is for the Browns, not far from receiver and after quarterback. The defense intercepted seven passes during a winless 2017 season, the second-lowest total in the NFL.
The Browns chose not to pursue trade discussions for Kansas City's Marcus Peters; he will be traded to the Rams. That deal, though, could wind up freeing Trumaine Johnson to test the free-agent market.
Johnson fits the profile the Browns want. He's 28. He was a third-round pick in 2012. In six seasons with the Rams, he has intercepted 18 passes, returning three for touchdowns. His career-high came in 2015, when he had seven picks. Last season he broke up a team-high 14 passes, forced a fumble and recovered another. He also had two interceptions.
ProFootballFocus.com reported that Johnson allowed 51 receptions on 89 passes thrown his way, and he only gave up one touchdown.
The strong 2015 season led to Johnson being franchised in 2016 and 2017 -- and earning $31 million. The Rams want Johnson back, but they also recognize that he will command a lot of money in the open market. They already kept him on the roster last season as the highest-paid corner in the league (in terms of average per year).
Oakland (a league-low five interceptions) and San Francisco have been mentioned as teams that will pursue Johnson aggressively.
There's no reason to think the Browns won't as well.
Johnson is the kind of young, talented, aggressive player who would fit into Gregg Williams' defense. Add Johnson, draft Minkah Fitzpatrick and move Jabrill Peppers closer to the line where he belongs and the secondary has a different feel.
Johnson, however, will be an interesting free-agency test for the Browns, who have more than $110 million in salary cap room but are bidding against an 0-16 record.
A team like the Raiders can sell the arrival of Jon Gruden as coach, and the 49ers can tout the play of Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback after he was acquire from the Patriots. The Browns are coming off one win in two seasons.
Hue Jackson conceded the challenge, saying the day after the 2017 season ended that the Browns "are in a war for talent on every level right now." New GM John Dorsey said at the combine that the team could sell its history and tradition.
A year ago, the Browns signed several free agents and extended other contracts, which shows that players will take the money in free agency. The Browns made Kevin Zeitler the highest-paid guard in the league.
Johnson was paid $16.7 million a year ago while playing under the franchise tag. In terms of average per year, top corners like Richard Sherman of Seattle, Patrick Peterson of Arizona, Xavier Rhodes of Minnesota and Josh Norman of Washington were in the range of $14 million to $15 million per year.
Johnson is a very good player. But he's not considered top-tier elite.
The generosity the Browns show him may be a good indicator of how far the team has to go to convince players that joining a winless team is a good idea.