Through four weeks of practices and two preseason games, Justin Harrell has proven a couple of things. One is that he’ll never live up to his lofty draft status. Even before Harrell injured his back for the first time in 2008, he never looked like an impact defensive lineman. He lacks the explosiveness and the tenacity that makes players like Chicago’s Tommy Harris, Oakland’s Richard Seymour, Minnesota’s Kevin Williams, Arizona’s Darnell Dockett and Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata so good. The other is that he’s clearly one of the top four ends on the current roster, with the gap to No. 5 being pretty sizable. And while nobody in the front office is doing cartwheels over the fact that the 16th pick in the ’07 draft is a better player than Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Ronald Talley, it does provide a strong argument for keeping him around for another season.
Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette sees things differently. He opined recently that it’s time for the Packers to cut ties with Harrell. He argued that No. 91 couldn’t be counted on to last an entire season, and that by keeping him on the final roster, another presumably healthier defensive lineman would have to be released. He’s absolutely right on both counts. But so what? If Harrell’s back is OK to start the season, he’s clearly one of the best 53 players on the team. And isn’t the goal of every general manager to keep the best 53 players? Besides, how risky is it to release Wilson and/or Talley? Both players are eligible for the practice squad, and based on their performances this summer, it’s highly unlikely that either would be signed to another team’s active roster. In short, keeping Harrell is unquestionably a gamble, but as things stand right now, it’s one definitely worth taking.