First, the expected news: The Packers activated defensive tackle Justin Harrell off of the physically unable to perform list on Saturday.
Second, the unexpected news: To make room for Harrell on the active roster, the Packers released defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
The Packers announced the moves late Saturday morning, and Harrell will make his season debut on Sunday at undefeated Tennessee. Harrell needed back surgery this spring, and when he was unable to participate in training camp, he was placed on PUP when a second back surgery was deemed necessary on Aug. 25.
Meanwhile, an era has ended with Gbaja-Biamila's release. In nine seasons with the Packers, Gbaja-Biamila is the team's career leader in sacks with 74.5.
"We want to thank Kabeer for his contributions to the Green Bay Packers," general manager Ted Thompson said in the press release announcing the news. "During his time here, he has been a big part of our organization and our community. We wish Kabeer and his family well."
Gbaja-Biamila was the full-time starter at defensive end from 2002 through most of 2006. He had just six sacks in 2006, when he lost his starting job to Cullen Jenkins late in the season. Reduced to a pass-rush specialist, Gbaja-Biamila's career enjoyed a rebirth last year with 9.5 sacks in the regular-season — when he surpassed Reggie White's old team record of 68.5 sacks — plus 1.5 sacks in the playoffs.
Offseason knee surgery, however, seemed to take the zip out of Gbaja-Biamila's dangerous first step. He had just a half-sack this season, in Week 2 at Detroit, and failed to register a quarterback pressure since that game. The proud Gbaja-Biamila insisted he was healthy and coach Mike McCarthy continually said he was rounding back into form, but the assistant coaches acknowledged otherwise.
"I don't know what my football future holds, but one thing I've realized is that football is more than a game — it's about building relationships and changing lives," Gbaja-Biamila said in the release. "One of the commitments I've had throughout my career has been to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is something that I intend on doing whether on the field or not.
"God bless the Green Bay Packers!"
Gbaja-Biamila was deemed expendable because defensive ends Mike Montgomery (ankle) and Jason Hunter (hamstring) are finally healthy. Montgomery replaced Jenkins as the starter opposite Aaron Kampman before getting injured in his first start, against Atlanta in Week 5. Hunter, a special-teams standout with the potential to provide some pass rush, was injured with Jenkins in Week 4 against Tampa Bay.
"My nine years as a Green Bay Packer have been a blessing that is beyond words," KGB said in the release. "I thank God for bringing me to this first-class organization and first-class community. During my time here, I've built relationships with a number of people in the Packer family. The front-office executives, GMs, coaches, past and present players, the enormous support and administrative staff plus the greatest fans in football, all have helped make my time here truly special, and I am thankful for that. It has been a very positive experience. I was able to build a family here and grow with a community that I call home. Again, I've been truly blessed."
Gbaja-Biamila had the highest salary cap figure on the Packers at $7.73 million, though that likely changed with Aaron Rodgers' new contract.
Gbaja-Biamila's seven-year, $37.3 million contract, signed in April 2003, was set to expire after next season. His base salary for this season was $6.15 million this season — meaning the Packers saved $3.256 on this year's cap. His $7.3 million base salary for 2009 is wiped off the books, though the remainder of his prorated signing bonus, $1.57 million, will remain.
Meanwhile, Harrell comes to the rescue of a defensive tackle group that got by with just Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole for the first seven games.
Harrell was held out of the offseason program after being drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft as he recovered from a torn biceps tendon sustained during his senior season at Tennessee. Because of his slow introduction to the pro game and an ankle injury sustained at midseason, Harrell played in just seven games and really only had one strong performance, at Chicago in December.
The Packers expected Harrell to make a big jump this season — a big reason why they elected to trade defensive tackle Corey Williams to Cleveland before the draft. But Harrell showed up for the offseason program out of shape and suffered a herniated disc in his back, which required surgery. When his recovery, as Thompson put it, "plateaued," Harrell had a second back procedure in August and was placed on PUP.
Harrell was eligible to begin practicing after Week 6 and says he's been pain-free. Harrell's three-week window to be either activated to the active roster or put on season-ending injured reserve was this week.
"The speed of the game is so much faster from practice to the game," Harrell said on Wednesday. "Just being out there practicing now, it's still a little fast for me. I'm just trying to get that down and get my reaction time down."
Harrell was born in Martin, Tenn., about two hours from the Titans' home in Nashville."This was my goal to be back for this game right here," Harrell said.
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Hello, Harrell; Good-Bye, KGB
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