UPDATE: CB Al Harris given 5-year extension

Starting cornerback Al Harris on Saturday signed a five-year, $19 million contract extension that will keep the free-agent-to-be here through the 2009 season.

The signing is the latest example of the Packers moving preemptively to lock up their important players before they reach free agency. The Packers reached similar agreements with, among others, wide receiver Robert Ferguson, running back Ahman Green and cornerback Mike McKenzie.

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

Signing Harris is a critical move, especially if McKenzie makes good on his threat to never play again for the Packers. Harris has emerged as a productive player and team leader. During training camp, between plays Harris almost always could be seen either talking to his fellow defensive backs or position coaches Kurt Schottenheimer or Lionel Washington.

"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," Packers coach-GM Mike Sherman said.

Despite not being the fastest corner in the league, Harris makes up for it with a physical style of football. He's one of the best in the business playing bump-and-run coverage. He comes with a high football IQ, as evidenced by his interception and touchdown return against Seattle when he read Matt Hasselbeck's audible in the playoffs in January.

Harris turns 30 on Dec. 7. Because he was a backup for much of his career, playing behind standout cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent in Philadelphia, Harris doesn't have a lot of mileage on his body. He was acquired by the Packers during the 2003 draft for a second-round draft choice, and played all 16 games last season with three interceptions. One of those came against Detroit, which he ran back for a touchdown.

Harris' base salary last season was $1.05 million and slated to be $1.35 million for the coming season, a great bargain for the Packers.

Even if McKenzie never comes back, extending Harris should solidify the Packers' secondary for years, if rookies Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas live up to their abundant promise.

McKenzie continued his holdout Saturday, meaning he will miss the first of his $161,000 game check. McKenzie is supposed to be playing the third year of a five-year, $17.1 million contract.


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