Packers sign Harris to five-year, $19 million extension

Saturday, September 11th 2004, 5:38 pm
By: News On 6

Another cornerback has surpassed Green Bay Packers holdout Mike McKenzie in compensation _ and this time it's his own teammate.

Al Harris agreed to a five-year extension worth about $19 million, including more than $7 million in bonuses, his agent, Jack Bechta confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday.

Bechta said he and Packers chief negotiator Andrew Brandt had been talking since July about a new deal for Harris, who will make $1.35 million this season.

Talks heated up after the 29-year-old Harris, a second-year starter, capitalized on McKenzie's absence to showcase his work ethic and take rookies Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas under his tutelage, along with Canadian Leaguer Jason Horton, during training camp.

``The trust between the coaches and Al has skyrocketed,'' Bechta said.

Harris's play and leadership in training camp prompted the Packers to get a deal done now rather than risk letting Harris become an unrestricted free agent after the season, coach-general manager Mike Sherman said.

``To appreciate Al Harris you have to see him every day in practice. Day after day he practices the same and that's like a true professional,'' Sherman said.

Harris refused to call it ironic that he got the big boost in pay that McKenzie has been angling for by staying away all offseason and threatening to retire if he's not traded.

``Honestly, I haven't been thinking about any contract stuff,'' Harris said. ``Just going out and playing. You know what I mean? Because your play really dictates what happens on the business part of it.''

McKenzie, who has three years left on a five-year, $17.1 million contract he signed in January 2002, became upset this winter when several cornerbacks of lesser talent surpassed him in compensation. He has refused to report and will miss his first weekly paycheck of $161,000 after the Packers' game Monday night at Carolina.

Bechta's business partner, Brian Parker, was McKenzie's agent until dropping him as a client last summer. McKenzie is now represented by Drew Rosenhaus.

The Packers acquired Harris last year from Philadelphia, where he was a nickel back for five seasons, for a second-round draft pick in 2004. He became a starter for the first time in his career and broke up 14 passes to go with three interceptions. In the playoffs, he scored on a 52-yard interception return to give Green Bay a 33-27 overtime win against Seattle. It was the first defensive touchdown ever to decide an NFL playoff game.

``I'm happy to be here as far as long term. I was happy that they traded for me and gave me the opportunity,'' Harris said. ``Thank God and I thank everybody who had anything to do with it.''

The Packers also released tight end Steve Bush on Saturday but Sherman didn't immediately fill the roster spot. He wouldn't say whether Bryan Barker or B.J. Sander would punt at Carolina.

Because Barker was still on the roster at the deadline Saturday, his entire salary of $760,000 is guaranteed because he's a vested veteran. The Packers will take a $455,000 hit on their cap because of the veteran's minimum benefit provision.