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Talking Packers: Al Harris & James Starks

November 10, 2010

The Green Bay Packers and general manager Ted Thompson have built a team that has become a perennial contender in the NFC North. Part of that building process has included retaining younger players that show flashes of potential in backup roles on the team. On Tuesday, the Packers maintained that pattern by activating running back James Starks to the 53-man active roster. To make room for Starks, the Packers released linebacker Robert Francois.

The move comes as a bit of a surprise considering the team chose to release veteran and fan-favorite cornerback Al Harris on Monday. As many fans were left scratching their heads, they wondered aloud, the Packers have room for an unproven rookie on their team, but not a proven veteran? Regardless of fan input and opinion, Packers general manager Ted Thompson has always run his team how he sees fit, and for the most part things have worked out for the better. (See: Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre)

The more I think about the decisions to elevate Starks and release Harris, the more I realize that it should come as no surprise. In fact, given Thompson’s history, it’s more shocking that fans and journalists didn’t see this coming. Thompson has always valued young players and been reticent to pay older players on the tail-end of their careers. Further, the only people that really know the health of Al Harris’ knee are the Packers’ trainers and coaches who have been working with him for the past few months.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the team’s decision to release Harris was a “big-picture roster decision” and “not a physical decision” but you have to wonder what kind of shape the 35-year old’s knee is in. Especially after last season’s playoff loss to the Cardinals where the Packers were desperate for cornerback help, would the Packers really release a healthy, capable cornerback the following season?

Considering the severity of Harris’ knee injury, one has to wonder if he will ever be able to return to his previous form. Following his release, Harris cleared waivers as no one wanted to take on his salary without having a chance to examine his surgically-repaired knee for themselves. According to Harris’ agent, Jack Bechta, there are “currently negotiations with multiple teams” but there is no certainty that Harris will play football again this season — if ever.

UPDATE: Al Harris has signed with the Miami Dolphins. Harris is returning to the state of his birth.

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