Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dolphins sign veteran CB Al Harris; waive former first-rounder Jason Allen

Four-and-a-half years after Nick Saban and the Miami Dolphins selected cornerback Jason Allen 16th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, his tenure with the team has come to a disappointing and unceremonious end.

Despite opening the 2010 season as one of the team's starting cornerbacks and totaling three interceptions in the first seven games, Allen found himself on the bench against the Bengals and lost his starting job permanently to Sean Smith in last week's game in Baltimore.

Now, just 10 days after starting for the Dolphins, Allen finds himself without a job and replaced in Miami by a 35-year-old cornerback coming off a terrible knee injury.

(In case you're wondering, Allen is not eligible for the practice squad.)

The Miami Dolphins have also signed veteran cornerback Al Harris today—just two days after he was released from the Green Bay Packers' PUP list.

Harris has not played since Week 11 of the 2010 season, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the lateral collateral ligament, the iliotibial band, the fibular collateral ligament, and the lateral hamstring in his left knee in a game against the 49ers.

Financial terms of Harris' deal have not been disclosed, but it likely a one-year deal with a solid, but unspectacular, veteran base salary.


A native of Pompano Beach, Fla., Harris starred at Texas A&M-Kingsville and was named to the All-Lone Star Conference first-team after grabbing five interceptions as a senior in 1996.

Harris was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth round of the 1997 NFL Draft and spent his entire rookie season on the team's practice squad. He was waived by the Buccaneers on Aug. 31 the following year.

After being claimed off waivers by Philadelphia Eagles, Harris stepped into a significant role immediately and went on to start seven of 16 games for the team in 1998.

Harris went on to play in all 64 possible games with the Eagles through the 2002 season, intercepting four passes in 1999, one in 2001, and two more in 2002.

In the 2003 offseason, Harris was dealt to the Packers along with a fourth-round pick in exchange for Green Bay's second-round pick (used by Philadelphia on tight end L. J. Smith). Harris started all 16 games in his first season with the Packers, totaling three interceptions and 11 pass deflections.

Harris signed a five-year, $18.7 million extension with the Packers in 2004. Despite having just one interception that season, he again started all 16 games and set a career high with 19 pass deflections.

Starting all 16 games over the next three seasons, Harris totaled eight interceptions during that span and earned his first career Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections in 2007.

A ruptured spleen forced Harris to miss four games in during the 2008 season, but he was able to start the other 12 and earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection.

Harris started the Packers' first 10 games of the 2010 season, but suffered a significant knee injury against the 49ers on Nov. 22 as he trailed wide receiver Michael Crabtree. He was later placed on season-ending injured reserve.

The injury forced Harris to begin 2010 training camp on the PUP list, where he remained nine weeks into the regular season. The Packers gave him his release on Nov. 8.

Initially issued No. 22 during his first practice with the Dolphins, Harris will now wear his traditional No. 31, while cornerback Nate Ness will take Jason Allen's No. 32.


These moves are a bit surprising for a few reasons. It's surprising to see Harris added given his age, recent injury history, and the Dolphins' youth movement in 2010.

I'm also a tiny bit surprised to see Jason Allen released, because although he lost his starting job to Sean Smith, he's certainly more of a contributor at cornerback than Benny Sapp, Nolan Carroll, or the recently-signed Nate Ness, and was easily one of the Dolphins' best special-teams players in 2009.

I suppose the reasoning behind releasing Allen is that he has had nearly five years to prove himself, and while he offered a tiny bit of hope by earning a starting job this season, appears like he will never develop into a quality starter.

On the other hand, Nate Ness is still young and has potential; Nolan Carroll is a drafted rookie with return ability; and the Dolphins gave up receiver Greg Camarillo to acquire Benny Sapp.

It's hard to say what kind of impact Harris will have, because he's getting up there in years and is coming off a major injury that has kept him out of football activities for the past 11 months.

In his prime, Harris made up for top-notch speed by being a smart, instinctive corner with an eye for reading receivers. He is also a sound tackler for his position, offering a physical style of play and good size at 6-foot-1.

Harris is probably not the same player he was five years ago though, and I don't envision any way he cracks the starting lineup, assuming he's healthy enough to stick around and play the rest of the season.

What Harris does provide is some solid veteran depth behind starters Vontae Davis and Sean Smith and inconsistent nickel back Benny Sapp.

I also like the idea of Smith being able to pick Harris' brain a little bit, as the second-year player could learn a few things from a fellow big corner.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.

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