DE played just 11 games for Green Bay

Defensive end Joe Johnson, who suffered through two injury-plagued seasons that turned him into one of the least productive free agent acquisitions in Green Bay Packers history, was released by the team on Wednesday afternoon.

The departure of Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl performer during an earlier stint with the New Orleans Saints, has been anticipated for months. The only surprise was that Green Bay officials did not cut ties to Johnson on June 2, the first day the Packers could have deferred some of the impact of his exit until next season.

Green Bay will realize a cap savings of about $4 million, the base salary that Johnson was due this season on the six-year, $33 million contract he signed in spring 2002. The Packers still must count roughly $1.08 million against their cap for Johnson, because of prorated signing bonus segments.

The club will defer $3.24 million to its 2005 salary cap.

When the Packers signed Johnson in 2002, it was hailed as a key acquisition, one some felt was only slightly less significant than the addition of defensive end Reggie White in 1993. But because of injuries, Johnson, one of the NFL's premier ends during his eight seasons with the Saints, and a defender who played the run and the pass with equal efficiency, instead became a memorable free agent bust.

In all, the Packers invested nearly $10 million in Johnson, including an initial signing bonus of $4.75 million, in two years. Their return: Just 11 games played, 25 tackles and two sacks.

Johnson, 31, started in five games in 2002 before his season was ended prematurely by a torn left triceps. In '03, it was a ruptured right quadriceps that forced him onto the injured reserve list after just six appearances.

Given the need for proven defensive ends around the league, it is expected that several teams will at least want to visit with Johnson before camp, to gauge his conditioning and determine whether he can still be a viable contributor.

For his career, Johnson has appeared in 117 games, all but two of them starts, and has 425 tackles, 52 ½ sacks, 17 forced fumbles and seven recoveries.