Cornerbacks: One signs, one stays away
The deal with Harris came as starting left cornerback Mike McKenzie continued a long holdout that kept him out of training camp and the preseason, and shows no indications of being resolved anytime soon.
Harris, 29, was entering the final season of his current contract and would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. Instead, he will sign an extension of four or five years.
Financial details were not available Saturday, but the deal is expected to include total bonuses of $6 million-$7 million and average yearly compensation of about $4 million.
Securing Harris, the starter at right cornerback, was critical because he is the Packers' most veteran cornerback, and because McKenzie's future remains very much undecided. McKenzie has suggested he has no designs on returning to the Packers, is seeking a trade and doesn't appear ready to alter his stance.
"He is very comfortable with his position, and Packers people know that," agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN.com earlier this week. "Mike is very serious about sitting out until they trade him. We've had a real open dialogue with the Packers and they know exactly where he stands. I don't see a resolution on the horizon."
A five-year veteran, McKenzie has three years remaining on the five-year extension he signed at the end of the 2001 campaign. His base salary for 2003 is $2.75 million, and he will lose $161,764 of that if he does not report in time for the Monday night regular-season opener at Carolina. It is believed that McKenzie, who can be fined as much as $5,000 per day because he is under contract, also has amassed substantial penalties.
Rosenhaus, McKenzie's fifth agent since he entered the NFL in '99, has tried to convince Packers brass to deal his client. While there are some potential suitors, the New Orleans Saints primary among them, no one seems willing to meet Green Bay's price, which was set this spring at first- and fifth-round draft choices. The Saints have remained in close contact with the Packers and are said to have proposed a deal that includes a second-round choice and a player.
For now, however, McKenzie remains home in Memphis, taking classes toward his degree, working out with a personal trainer and allowing Rosenhaus to do all his talking. He has politely declined all interview requests, has spoken by phone and in person to some teammates, but has not flinched.
Green Bay officials, including head coach/general manager Mike Sherman, have said they will welcome McKenzie back if he opts to report, but no one expects him to blink.
The unsettled nature of McKenzie's future clearly was a factor in the Packers' rewarding Harris, but certainly not the primary component. One of the team's hardest workers, Harris has enhanced his leadership role and, with a base salary of $1.35 million for 2004, was probably underpaid. Plus, the Packers could not afford to let him depart as an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Green Bay chose cornerbacks -- Ahmad Carroll (No. 1) and Joey Thomas (No. 3a) -- with its first two draft choices this year, and they likely represent the Packers' future. But, while both youngsters demonstrated nice progress this summer, neither seems ready yet to step into the starting lineup. Green Bay will use journeyman Michael Hawthorne in McKenzie's spot for Monday night's opener.
Harris came to the Packers in a 2003 trade, from Philadelphia, where he was one of the NFL's best nickel corners. In 2003, for the first time in his career, he started all 16 games, totaling 48 tackles, three interceptions and 14 passes defensed. It was his interception and 52-yard return for a touchdown that allowed the Packers to defeat Seattle in overtime in a wild-card round playoff matchup.
For his career, Harris, a six-year veteran who has never missed a game, has 200 tackles, 10 interceptions and 69 passes defensed. He has appeared in 96 contests and has started in 38 of them.