Fingers Crossed With Harrell

Justin Harrell has played in only 13 games since being the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2007. Meanwhile, the Packers wait on their restricted free agents and continue to steer clear from any unrestricted free agents.

As the Green Bay Packers look ahead to having the No. 23 pick on the first night of the April 22-24 draft, they are keeping their fingers crossed that the investment they made at the outset of the 2007 draft will finally pay off.

Defensive end Justin Harrell has been a flop since general manager Ted Thompson surprised many with the selection of the injured Tennessee player at No. 16 in the first round that year.

Harrell has played in only 13 regular-season games with two starts his first three years in the league. What's more, he missed the entire 2009 season.

Yet, despite all of the trouble caused by Harrell's litany of physical woes, the Packers are sticking with him and giving him one more shot to prove he can be a dependable and worthwhile contributor on the field.

"This is the best he's looked in the strength and conditioning part of it," coach Mike McCarthy said at the owners meetings in March.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Harrell was cleared to participate in Green Bay's voluntary offseason program, which began March 15, seven months after a recurring back injury flared up in training camp and shelved him for the rest of the year.

A disc problem in his lower back required Harrell to undergo two surgeries in 2008. He didn't play until the second half of that season and was derailed again by season's end with a hip injury related to the back trouble.

McCarthy is tempering his enthusiasm about whether Harrell is out of the woods with his medical history — he was unavailable the first month of his rookie season because of a biceps injury from college — until the pads go on in training camp in the late summer.

"I know (team strength coaches) Dave Redding and Mark Lovat feel good about where he is at in the weight room, compared to where he was this time last year, clearly," McCarthy said. "So, he has made progress. But, until he gets in there and you see him torque and play with leverage, that's when the lower back will be tested."

Harrell is signed through 2012. His six-year, $14.5 million contract includes more than $1 million to be earned this year (including a $408,375 roster bonus), more than $1.2 million in potential earnings in 2011 (including a $575,000 roster bonus) and a base salary of more than $1.5 million in 2012.

Waiting game

The Packers continue to wait on the majority of their restricted free agents to sign their qualifying offers from the team.

Safety Atari Bigby, defensive end Johnny Jolly, nickel back Tramon Williams, fullback John Kuhn and offensive linemen Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz remain unsigned. All of them have held key roles for Green Bay.

The players have until April 15 to sign offer sheets from other teams.

Only Kuhn requested and received a waiver from the team to participate in its voluntary workout program, which started March 15. The others aren't allowed to join in until they're signed.

Contract updates

Restricted free agent tenders


Bigby and Jolly
Mike Roemer/AP Images
— S Atari Bigby (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) has been a starter since 2007, but his last two seasons have been riddled by an assortment of injuries, which have diminished the impact he once made as a tenacious strong safety.

— LG Daryn Daryn Colledge (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) regressed in his fourth season as a starter at left guard. That sets up the possibility that he is the odd man out since the Packers have good depth on the interior of the line and could plug in Jason Spitz or T.J. Lang at Colledge's spot.

— DE Johnny Jolly (tendered at $2.521M with first-round pick as compensation) still has a legal issue hanging over him stemming from his 2008 drug possession arrest, but he didn't allow that to be a distraction in a highly productive season (75 tackles, team-record 11 pass deflections) as the starter on the left side.

— FB John Kuhn (tendered at $1.176M with no compensation) can't be considered expendable even with the position well stocked with Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson coming off his rookie season. Kuhn is a durable blocker and a viable short-yardage back with six touchdowns the last two seasons.

— C/G Jason Spitz (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) is on the comeback trail from November back surgery. Provided there's not a setback in his recovery, Spitz should have a shot to regain a starting spot, which may have to be at left guard since Scott Wells performed well at center in Spitz's absence.

— CB Tramon Williams (tendered at $3.043M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) held down the starting job with Al Harris out the last seven games, but Williams is better equipped in his customary nickel role.

Transactions

Franchise player: NT Ryan Pickett (tendered at $7.003M; signed four-year contract March 12).

Transition player: None.

Unrestricted free agents unsigned: Green is a long shot to return to the club after it brought back its onetime workhorse at midseason and allowed him to become the team's all-time rushing leader. Green is 33, and his explosive running abilities are way behind him.

Restricted free agents who weren't tendered: P Jeremy Kapinos (not tendered as ERFA) had a league-worst net average of 34.1 yards. RB DeShawn Wynn landed on injured reserve before Halloween for the second time in his three years as a pro with a knee injury, shortening the leash even more for his future with the team.

Players re-signed: CB Will Blackmon: RFA; (tendered at $1.176M with fourth-round pick as compensation); $1.176M/1 yr; OT Chad Clifton: UFA; $19.5M/3 yrs, $7.5M guaranteed; S Nick Collins: RFA (tendered at $3.35M with first- and third-round picks as compensation); $3.35M/1 yr/extension $23.4M/3 yrs; TE Spencer Havner: ERFA; terms unknown; S Derrick Martin: Potential RFA; $1.9M/2 yrs, $355,000 SB; NT Ryan Pickett: Franchise FA; $24.925M/4 yrs, $2M SB/$6.4 RB; OT Mark Tauscher: UFA; $8.262M/2 yrs, $2.081M RB 2010.

Players acquired: None.

Players lost: S Matt Giordano (released); LB Aaron Kampman: UFA Jaguars; $24M/4 yrs, $10M guaranteed; DE Mike Montgomery (released).

Quick hits

— Running back Ahman Green, the team's all-time leading rusher, is on call and a short drive away if the Packers want to bring him back for another season.

In the interim, the team's only unsigned unrestricted free agent has taken on a new job during the offseason. Green has been a teaching intern at De Pere High School, just outside Green Bay, since February.

Green, 33, primarily works with at-risk and special-needs students.

"Being a teacher is an easy way to help kids, teaching them, talking to them, counseling them, doing whatever, because high-school age is a critical age in life," Green told Packers.com.

Green has maintained a residence in the Green Bay area, although he left the Packers as a free agent to play for the Houston Texans in 2007 and 2008 before rejoining the Packers halfway through last season.

He would like to re-sign with Green Bay to serve as a backup to Ryan Grant, but his return apparently will hinge on whether the Packers take a quality back in the draft.

"In the meantime, I can't wait for that. I've got to look at what I am going to do if that retirement comes sooner than later," said Green, with regard to having a teaching career as a fallback.

— Defensive end Johnny Jolly, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, will be going to trial.

The much-delayed felony drug case against Jolly picked up some steam with a May 21 date set for the start of a jury trial.

Jolly faces a charge for possession of at least 200 grams of codeine. He was arrested in July 2008 in his hometown of Houston, where the trial will be held.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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