The Green Bay Packers had breaking contract news involving one of their starting cornerbacks on Saturday, but it might not be the one most Packer fans might have expected.
Second-year Packer and seventh-year pro Al Harris agreed to terms on a multi-year contract extension with the team, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said following the team's Saturday practice.
Harris, whose contract was due to expire at the end of the 2004 season, will now be manning the Packers' right cornerback position for many years to come.
The former Texas A&M-Kingsville man is coming off his first year as a regular starter, opening all 16 games for the Packers in 2003 after coming over in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles in March of that year.
He totaled 46 tackles and three interceptions in his first year in the Green and Gold, but made his most famous contribution on what is now one of the most memorable plays in Packers history.
Harris became the first defensive player in NFL history to end a sudden-death postseason game when he picked off a Matt Hasselbeck pass and raced 52 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 33-27 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card game.
Sherman said that the cornerback's daily performance through training camp helped to precipitate extending his contract.
"I believe that had a big part in it - how he's played and performed in every preseason game and practice," Sherman said. "To appreciate Al Harris, you have to see him every day, at practice day after day. He practices the same every day - like a true professional."
Harris said that any contract talks have not been any type of distraction for him leading up to Monday's season opener at Carolina.
"I focus on football," Harris said at his locker Saturday. "Whatever was going on was between the organization and my agent. I don't really get into that part of it - I let that part of it handle itself."
Although Harris has been in Green Bay for just one season, he's already one of the longest-tenured members of the secondary, with only safeties Darren Sharper and Bhawoh Jue out-ranking him in Packers experience.
With three of the five cornerbacks currently on the roster yet to have played an NFL game, Sherman said he liked the way Harris worked with the rookies during their first training camp.
"I believe he's taken them under his wing," said the coach. "He's tried to help the younger guys."
Harris and his mates in the defensive backfield will have their hands full Monday as they face one of the top receiving tandems in the NFC in the Panthers' Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad.
Not that his mind wasn't 100% zeroed in on the season, but having any contract questions cleared up will take away any thought of distraction, although Harris seemed to have the right mindset all along.
"I really haven't been thinking about any contract stuff," he said. "Your play dictates what happens on the business side of it."