A Rationale for waiving Al Harris

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Who can forget the look on Matt Hasselbeck’s face as Al Harris runs by him to clinch the “we want the ball, and we’re going to score” game in the 2003 playoffs.  Fast forward 7 years and the Packers have released the pro bowl corner and he is now playing for the Miami Dolphins.  As is often with nostalgia, it often clouds judgment; no one wants to remember the bad, so we typically only remember the good.  People wanted to keep Aaron Kampman, a fan favorite, even though he never managed to transition into a 3-4 OLB; in the end both parties recognized that it was in the best interest for Kampman to leave for free agency (and he seems to be doing fine with 4 sacks in Jacksonville). Hopefully in this article I will set out a rationale for why it was in the best interest of the Packers and Al Harris for him to be waived.

1.     Age: probably the most important factor for the Packers. At age 35 Al Harris is already a decade older than the average NFL player and like running backs, corner backs typically do not get better with age.  Older players often lose their top end speed as well, and Harris was never that fast to begin with so it only compounds the problem.

2.     Injury: A complete knee reconstruction is a devastating injury, especially for cornerbacks that have to rapidly change direction and plant in order to defend wide receivers.  Usually players are never the same after such an injury and it was quite obvious that Harris was having difficulties recovering.  Given that he had 3 weeks to compete for a spot against at worst Brandon Underwood or Pat Lee and you can tell how bad it must have been.  Harris has come back from some pretty crazy injuries (namely the ruptured spleen), but a ruptured spleen is much different from a ruptured knee.

3.     Play style: Al Harris was a very good bump and run cover cornerback; this was great during the times with Bob Sanders, but not as effective for a Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense.  In the Capers’ 3-4 defense, cornerbacks are asked to sit 5-10 yards back from the wide receiver and trail and react instead of bump at the line of scrimmage to reroute wide receivers.  Add in the injury, his age and his speed and its debatable whether or not Harris would have been able to adjust.

4.     Position: Charles Woodson is Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams may in fact be playing better than him.  Obviously Williams’ development into a potential pro bowl corner has a lot to do with Harris being released.  Assuming that neither Woodson nor Williams is moving to make room for Harris, Harris becomes an option for either the nickel or dime back.  Again neither position is suited for Harris.  Bumping a receiver off a route isn’t as important when going against slot receivers since the patterns are so short and quick anyways.  Finally teams like nickel backs to be young developmental players so that they can get some experience without being too much of a detriment to the team.  Tramon Williams was that player until he became the starter and Sam Shields has taken his place so far.  In the event that Harris did take over for Shields as the nickel back Thompson’s fear probably was that it would hinder the development of Shields, who is looking like a player who could reach his full potential.

5.     Contract: Assuming that he’s looking at either the nickel or dime back spots and it becomes obvious that his contract makes him expendable, especially in the eyes of Ted Thompson a notorious penny pincher.  The problem continues next year, do you continue to pay Harris starting corner back type of money even as he’s the nickel or dime back or do you cut him?

6.     Leadership: Many fans have argued that the Packers need veteran leadership on such a young team.  My feeling is that players can’t lead the team from the sidelines, and the Packers have been without Harris for almost a year at this point and have looked fine.  Add in the fact that Charles Woodson is the reigning defensive MVP of the year and Nick Collins is a perennial pro bowler and I think you have enough stability in the secondary already.

7.     Attrition: Perhaps the only reason to keep Al Harris would in case either Woodson or Williams becomes hurt.  Presumably either Harris or Shields would take over as the starting corner with the other taking the nickel spot.  Without Harris in the lineup, either Brandon Underwood or Pat Lee would rotate in and it becomes debatable whether or not Harris would outplay them.  My feeling is yes, but the Packers are limited in roster space and presumably they felt like all the other factors outweighed this one pro for Harris.

In the end, the Packers decided to waive Al Harris, much to the surprise of the fan base as well as Harris himself apparently.  There has been much news that Harris felt a little cheated that leadership was leading him on by giving him tape to watch and a gameplan to understand before letting him go.  I actually see it a little differently; the Packers were only doing their due diligence up to the point that they decided to waive him; every day brings a new situation in the NFL and there might have come a point where a cornerback gets hurt or something else happens where Harris stays with the team.  What I think would be worse is if the Packers didn’t give Harris tape to watch and a gameplan to understand; that would have shown that they weren’t even going to let you compete for your spot and had already given up on you.

I also think that the Packers might have done him a favor by releasing him mid-season; had the Packers just thrown Harris onto IR and then released him in the off season, he would have had to compete with other free agents, where he would become a lot less attractive due to his age and his injury.  By releasing him mid season, he gets more attention than he would have in the offseason since there are many teams (as it turns out the Lions, Vikings and Dolphins) who are desperate for a cornerback.  Add in the fact that there may not even be a free agency next year if the owners and players union can’t agree and Harris’ release allows him to play now, show that his knee is fine and look for a bigger contract next year.  Finally, due to his age and health concerns it was unlikely that Harris would have not cleared waivers so he then gets to pick what team he would like to play for.  Most fans joked and secretly hoped that he wouldn’t go to the Vikings, but really who would want to jump into that mess without being vastly overpaid?  If the fans and media can see the organization falling apart, imagine what it must look like to players and people in the NFL who have more information.

So in the end, like with Aaron Kampman, it was in the best interest of both the Packers and Al Harris to part ways.  I always liked Harris as a player and I wish him the best in his future endeavors in Miami (and secretly happy that we’ve already played the Dolphins)

27 thoughts on “A Rationale for waiving Al Harris

  1. Great article! I couldn’t agree more with all the points you make and the resulting conclusion.

  2. Well said. Al will definately be missed, but there were plenty of rational reasons that led to the decision to release him. All we can do now is hope that the Packers stay healthy for the rest of the season and through the playoffs!

  3. GREAT article. You hit every point on the head. Although Packer fans may not have liked the move right now, but its for the better of the team in the long run. You cannot have an aging corner who is going to be 36 years old with a brand new knee, try and keep up with the speed and physicalness of the NFL players today. You would be asking almost the impossible out of him. The Packers made the right move!

  4. Perfectly said. I think most of us that follow the Packers will agree with most of your points.

  5. Plenty of rational reasons, aye, but for all the sense this move makes on paper, I still can’t shake the old saying: You can never have too many guys who can protect the QB, guys who can rush the QB, guys who can play QB or good cover corners. Sure, he’s expensive, sure he’s old, and sure he’s coming off ridiculous surgery. But in an uncapped year and coming off a playoff loss caused in part by lack of cornerback depth, you have to wonder about the wisdom of waiving Harris as opposed to, say, putting Patrick Lee on IR (again).

    Of course, if he goes to Miami and it turns out he can’t play anymore, this is all window dressing and it was the right move. The Packers’ staff are in a better position to know, obviously, then we will be until he actually suits up for the Dolphins.

    I do dispute that he was ‘obviously’ having difficulties in his recovery, however; there was nothing in his “Road to Recovery” videos that indicated he was having a particularly problematic rehabilitation, given his age and the severity of his injury. Also questioning the point about whether he would’ve adjusted well; he played decently if not exceptionally through every game up until San Fransisco last year.

    1. The reason I say obviously is that he had the opportunity to compete in during the offseason before he was placed on PUP and then for the 3 week window after he was actived and failed to outplay either Pat Lee or Brandon Underwood, and neither one of them is really that good at corner. Keep in mind, in Thompsons’ mind Harris would have to significantly outplay both Underwood and Lee since they have so much upside in comparison. Keep in mind with the “road to recovery” videos that they were produced by his agent; actually it was a pretty smart move by his agent, by making those videos it looks like Harris is doing just fine for other teams, but to the Packers who got to see him practice every day painted a different story.

  6. Ron Wolf made the famous saying that it’s better to get rid of a player a year early then a year later and thats what I think the Packers were doing on this move. Why have damaged goods out there who teams are going to target big time because they know what kind of injury he had and his age, so he is a huge target out there. If Harris were still on the team, you could be hampering the progression of a younger player getting that necessary game experience that he needs. IMO great move by the Pack!

  7. Yes, yes, yes. I agree with the whole line of reasoning. Sorry to see Al go, but understand why he no longer fit the scheme.

    1. I think some of us seem to forget how we felt about Harris before his injury last season.

      Sure, he was one of the better CBs we had at the time, but I don’t think anyone would have agreed that his level of play was where it used to be. And, as it was stated in the article, his style of play doesn’t always mesh well with Capers’ system.

    2. That’s one thing that I complain about Ted. He doesn’t trade away his talent while they still have trade value. What did we get for Aaron Kampman?

      1. I was thinking about that too, but then again I really can’t say that Thompson would have managed to get anything from Kampman. For one, you’d have to franchise him, so you are looking at 9-10 mil for the tag, assuming that his contract wasn’t higher at that point. Then add in the knee injury, his age again and I dunno if teams would be interested. There is interesting idea to reason out, does Julius Pepper factor into why the Packers did what they did? As in, if Julius Peppers wasn’t a FA and the Packers knew that the Bears were gonna sign a big name 4-3DE, would they have tagged him to stop him from going to the Bears? Or does the fact that Peppers was a FA mean that there was less interest in Kampman?

      2. I’ve read a lot of speculation that the Packers will get a 3rd round comp pick in the 2011 draft for him. I don’t know how that compares to what the Packers could have recieved before the trading deadline last year but the will get something of value.

        1. If the Packers get a 3rd round compensatory draft pick for an older player coming off major knee surgery, would be fantastic!

    3. Thanks for the input, I think that reason hinges on the fact that Tramon Williams plays well in his place. Obviously you thought as much (props to you), but I doubt anyone would have thought Admiral Armbar would come out and play at a level higher than the reigning defensive player of the year. What had Williams tanked as a starting corner? Also keep in mind that Shields wasn’t on team at that point so you are looking at either Underwood, Ford or Lee as a starting corner; I can see why they decided to keep him until they knew for sure that Williams could handle it

  8. Great piece. Also, who would we cut? I’m almost surprised we cut Francois when Starks was promoted, given our situation at the OLB opposite Matthews.

    It looks like we’re finally getting a handle on the penalties, too, and we all know Al tended to get a flag now and then. It’s nice to see Al and Kampman both end up signing with Florida teams. Maybe not every ex-Packer if consumed by vengeance when they are a free agent.

    1. Well first off both are stand up guys that would unlikely to be getting on a soapbox to spite the team. Both also were non-premium draft picks who rose up the ranks and were compensated as such. Second the organization does usually look out for its own, they may try to get you in cheap (see Collins last year or Jenkins maybe this year), but in the end they will make a fair deal.

  9. Al’s play was on the decline before he got hurt. People tend to forget that. It all started with the NFC championship game where he was getting torched by Plaxico. Ever since then, he just wasnt the same. People seem to get caught up in the name and live in the past when he was the lock down corner. With our up and coming corners, there was no need for his liability on our team, considering where our team looks like it could be headed. We dont need him give up big plays down the stretch.

  10. Nice article. Only one point I disagree with you is # 6, leadership. “My feeling is that players can’t lead the team from the sidelines?” Leadership & mentoring are integral for the development of superior football players. The many stories of past greats…taking the rookie under his wing …sharing his experience, wisdom for the betterment of the rookie & the team.

  11. Welcome back AL and very nice artcle.

    The only thing that I will say is something I said before”the door to the future can only come as fast as you close the door on the past”not to say it’s my own quote,more likely heard it ,but have used it.
    Wouldn’t be surprised to see this same thing happen to DD if he gets injured.

  12. WOW. This article is fantastic. It is absolutely fantastic to people who don’t REALLY know football. Your reasoning for “he won’t succeed with the move to a 3-4” and “slot receivers routes are shorter” sound great to people who have never played past high school. As a college football player, I understand your logic. I understood it as a senior in high school and maybe even my sophomore year in college. 1-you CAN run bump and run (known as press coverage, bump and run is SO 70s) in a 3-4. Give me ONE good reason why you can’t. I don’t want to hear any emotional, scotch tape and toothpic emotional “he’s too old” logic. 2- SLOT RECEIVERS DON’T run shorter routes. As a college cornerback, you know that you read the slot receiver because all the routes are based off of his. Come on, man. The slot receivers most often run short routes in blitzing situations as “hot routes” (yeah, it’s not just a joke from Wedding Crashers). Lastly, Williams is a good corner. He’s got a solid frame (which everyone-especially Jerry Jones,which should say something-seems to be looking for rather than talent and technique), decent speed, and marginal technique in his press, pedal, and brakes; but, he is NOT Al Harris. Al Harris’s technique is undeniable. His age is undeniable, and not a factor. Every college DB knows Al Harris is one of the top 3 press corners in the league. He compliments Woodson’s “softer” style of play perfectly. This was a bad idea. You know what was also a good idea, the Chargers getting rid of Drew Brees because he was “older” and they “needed a change”. You know what was ALSO a great idea the PACKERS letting Sharper go because he was “older” and they “needed a change.” Those both worked out for those teams…

    1. Like I said, I agree with the playstile argument, and I also agree that THE AL HARRIS FROM EARLY 09 is a top 3 BUMP AND RUN corner in the league.

      But we run bump and run sparingly right now.

      And if you think that Al Harris, right now, is a better corner than Tramon Williams, you are alucinating.

      NOBODY, NOBODY in this league is playing better corner than Tramon Williams. It’s no coincidence he is in almost every mid-season all-pro team.

      Also, we’re the BEST team in the league in opposing QB rating, with 68.3, and we’re 2nd in the league in scoring D with 15.9.

      So don’t create something that is not there. This D is playing the best it’s played in this decade, WITH Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, and WITHOUT Al Harris.

  13. Woody, what the hell is with your first four sentences? Could you possibly be any more condescending? How about a civil “I do not agree?”

  14. Thing is, I don’t agree with the way he told it, but I agree with Woody in some points.

    First of all, it’s easier, much easier for an old corner to play zone than it is to play man, specially bump-and-run.

    And people forget the fact that Harris played really well early 09, so it’s not a theory that he would suceed or struggle. He did suceed.

    I do agree with Thomas Hobbes on all the other points, however.

  15. The other reason to release him was that he may well have been unhappy as the 4th CB and this could have messed up team chemistry. Think Favre as a backup to Rodgers in 2008. Sometimes it’s better to part ways.

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