Just hours after enjoying an evening of glowing recognition in the national spotlight, the Packers made a tough business decision today, releasing two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris, who had been on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The team had until today to activate Harris, cut him or put him on injured reserve. Harris, who had started in all 102 games he played for the Packers over seven seasons, had not played in 2010 while he rehabbed a major knee injury he suffered last November.
“We want to thank Al for his contributions to the Green Bay Packers,” said general manager Ted Thompson. “His hard work, dedication and professionalism have been the key to his success. He has been a valuable member of our organization and our community. We wish him the very best in the future. He will always be part of the Packer family.”
Harris, a 13-year veteran, will turn 36 next month. “I lost my job to injury,” Harris told ESPN in a text message. “But I have only good things to say about Green Bay and the people I worked with.”
“This is not a physical decision, this is a big-picture roster decision,” said head coach Mike McCarthy, who said there was a lot of conversation before the decision was made at 10:30 a.m. today. “I thought Al did a tremendous job during his rehab. I thought he progressed during the three weeks. It was important for him to get back on the field. I thought he did an excellent job of getting himself back.
“Al Harris played top-notch football for us. He made over 100 starts. We made a decision based on the overall depth and future of our roster. You look at the healthier team, the development of our younger players, particularly in the secondary from the beginning of the season until now, and we feel very good about the progress that we’ve made individually, as a unit in the secondary and most importantly as a defense. All that was part of the conversation.”
McCarthy said that he and Thompson kept Harris apprised of all of the options through every step of his rehabilitation. “I have no qualms about the professionalism we dealt with throughout this whole process,” McCarthy said. “And I have been thanked by Al numerous times throughout this process.”
With the Packers leading the NFC North and a playoff berth in sight, McCarthy was asked if cutting a proven professional like Harris could hurt team chemistry this late in the season.
“You always look at all those variables, but you have to trust the leadership in your locker room,” McCarthy said. “Al’s a veteran player, a productive player, a popular player. But these are decisions that need to be made at different times of the year.
“My future is against Minnesota (the Packers’ next opponent, Nov. 21). I’m not talking about next year. We feel this is the best path for us.”
McCarthy said he expects Harris to find a job elsewhere. “I think Al Harris will definitely play again in the National Football League,” McCarthy said. “I have no doubts about that.”
Running back James Starks, also on the PUP list, will be evaluated on Wednesday before the team decides on his future. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett aggravated a previous ankle strain last night. McCarthy said it doesn’t appear that the latest injury did any more damage to the ankle.
The Packers’ week off comes late in the season. McCarthy said that he realized that would present some health challenges for his team, but is grateful for the time off, realizing it won’t cure all of the team’s ills but will certainly provide some relief. “We’re gonna have some players who will still be questionable next week,” McCarthy said. “I just hope the injury report goes from two pages to one. The bye week will help us.”
Rookie Sam Shields, who made his first career interception late in the opening period and ran 49 yards on his only kickoff return of the game, impressed the coach. With Patrick Lee out with an injury and Jordy Nelson pressed into more duty on the receiving corps, Shields will return kickoffs for the immediate future. “I think Sam definitely has a chance to be a big-time returner for us,” McCarthy said.”
McCarthy said that although the Packers looked like an elite squad on Sunday night, the team still has much work to do in the stretch drive for the playoffs. “Football is amazing. It can humble you. It’s never as good as you think it is. I haven’t seen all the film from last night yet but I know there are things we need to do better offensively.”
McCarthy and his staff will take a closer look at all phases of the game during what is called “self-scouting” over the next few days before the coaches are given some time off.
Still, just three weeks ago, Green Bay’s season could have taken a much different course. The Packers were 3-3, heavily injured and had to face the Vikings at Lambeau Field and the Jets on the road. “The last three weeks, the players and coaches have stayed the course. Nobody blinked,” McCarthy said. “It says a lot about the character in that locker room.”