The moves will give younger players an opportunity to start this season. Torrance Marshall, taken in the third round of last year's draft is currently the favorite to take over for Harris. Jamal Reynolds, Green Bay's top pick and 10th selection overall in the draft last year, will have a shot to start, along with Cletidus Hunt, in place of Thierry. The Packers are expected to take a defensive tackle high in the upcoming NFL draft in an effort to add more speed to defensive tackle, and possibly sign a free agent at that position.
Dotson is 32 years old. Thierry turns 31 on Sept. 4 and Harris turns 31 on Oct. 15. Williams turns 29 on April 22.
"Age obviously is a concern (with them)," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman said. "When they're here, they're taking spots from other guys that we want to get into the mix. My goal is to get guys who have as good a character as them and younger, and maybe a little faster."
Harris signed a four-year contract last spring that included a $3.125 million signing bonus. Dotson would have counted $3.3 million against next season's salary cap. Thierry was scheduled to be paid $3.5 million in 2002 and had three off-season surgeries last year. Both Thierry and Dotson also were scheduled to be paid $500,000 roster bonuses on Friday.
"We want to look at free agency, look at the draft and know what we have to fix," said Sherman. "This kind of clears things up a little bit. You never know with these players. Maybe sometime in June we're back negotiating with them. That's not out of the question."
Williams, a backup linebacker and key special teams player, was expected to count $563,000 against the cap this season.
The NFL-mandated salary cap for the upcoming season is $71.1 million.
Releasing Harris was puzzling since the Packers restructured his contract last year at this time and handed him a $3 million signing bonus.
"I don't look back on anything," Sherman said. "You make decisions based on what's in front of you at the time."
Safety LeRoy Butler spoke with Harris moments after the Packers informed him he was waived.
"He was reserved," Butler told the Green Bay News-Chronicle. "He didn't want to bash anybody. "Somebody will pick Bernardo up."
Harris led the team in tackles (130, 81 solo) for the fourth time in the last five years. He also collected 2.5 sacks, intercepted two passes, and registered single-season career highs in both forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (three - tied for the team lead).
Thierry signed as an unrestricted free agent (4 years, $10 million, including a $2 million signing bonus) before the 2000 season, and started at the right "elephant" end each of the last two years. But he has been slowed by injuries, including three off-season surgeries last year. He suffered a knee injury in early December last season and was eventually placed on injured reserve.
The Packers reportedly asked Thierry to reduce his salary to the NFL minimum of $650,000 but he opted to seek a better deal in free agency. Thierry finished with 91 tackles (53 solo), 10 sacks, two fumble recoveries and six passes defensed in Green Bay.
Dotson returned from torn quadriceps injury that ended his 2000 season in late November and played in all 16 games for the eighth time as a pro (also 1992-98). He started the last 13 contests, and had 3.5 sacks (tied for fifth on the team) among 39 total tackles, along with one forced fumble, and one pass defensed.
Williams came to Green Bay in a trade with New Orleans that included quarterback Aaron Brooks prior to the 2000 season. The linebacker, who backed up strong-side starter Na'il Diggs, led Green Bay this past season with 17 special teams tackles with 17, matching his 2000 career high.
Williams also forced and recovered one fumble on the coverage units. He played in 12 regular-season games, and was inactive for the other four contests.