GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers have released veteran cornerback Al Harris, cutting short his attempt to return to the field after a serious knee injury.
The 35-year-old Harris is nearly a year removed from his season-ending left knee injury last November. He began this season on the team's physically unable to perform list and returned to practice Oct. 19, giving the Packers a three-week timeline to decide his future.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the move wasn't an indication that the Packers think Harris' playing days are over.
"I think Al Harris will definitely play again in the National Football League," McCarthy said.
Instead, McCarthy said the decision was made with the team's overall roster in mind.
Tramon Williams has emerged as a potential Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in Harris' absence, and coaches believe rookie Sam Shields can develop into a top cornerback over the next few years.
And if the team were to activate Harris, they would have to release another player — a move that might hinder them in other areas, particularly on special teams.
"This is not a physical decision," McCarthy said. "This is a big-picture roster decision."
The Packers activated safety Atari Bigby from the physically unable to perform list on Saturday. McCarthy said the team has not yet made a decision on the future of rookie running back James Starks.
Harris started all 102 games he played in for the Packers over seven seasons (2003-09) after being acquired from Philadelphia. He had 14 interceptions and 108 passes defensed during his time in Green Bay.
McCarthy brushed aside any concerns that the move would have a negative effect in the Packers' locker room.
"You look at all those variables," McCarthy said. "With that, you always trust your leadership in your locker room. Al's a veteran player, a popular player. These are decisions that need to be made at different times of the year. We felt that Al had an opportunity to come back from a serious injury, he did an excellent job with his rehab. As far as the locker room, we trust the leadership in the locker room."
With the rest of the team celebrating a 45-7 rout of the Dallas Cowboys, Harris told espnmilwaukee.com late Sunday night that he expected to be released. McCarthy said the final decision wasn't made until Monday morning, and that general manager Ted Thompson was trying to reach him to discuss the move.
"Ted and I both have been very up front with Al all the way through the process," McCarthy said. "Time and time again, he knew what his options were, where we felt that he stood and so forth."
McCarthy thanked Harris for his dedication to the team, and Thompson praised him in a statement.
"We want to thank Al for his contributions to the Green Bay Packers," Thompson said. "His hard work, dedication and professionalism have been the keys to his success. During his time here, he has been a valuable member of our organization and our community. We wish him the very best in the future and he will always be a part of the Packer family."