GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Desmond Howard's reunion with the Green Bay Packers ended Tuesday when the team waived the Most Valuable Player of its 1997 Super Bowl victory.
"We're disappointed that he didn't come in and do what I thought he could do," Packers GM Ron Wolf said.
Howard was signed to a four-year, $5.71 million contract by the Packers in June after two seasons in Oakland. He was inactive the past three weeks because of dislocated ring fingers on both hands, but the Heisman Trophy winner had already lost his place in the Packers' game plans.
Wolf expected Howard to replace Roell Preston as the Packers' top kick and punt returner and to become their fourth wide receiver. But Howard was ineffective and tentative as a return man, and he didn't catch a pass this season.
In particular, coach Ray Rhodes grew impatient with Howard's struggles on the field and his frequent nagging injuries.
Howard, 29, averaged 19.2 yards on 19 kickoff returns this season and 7.8 yards on 12 punt returns.
The emergence of rookie running backs Basil Mitchell and De'Mond Parker as kickoff returners and rookie defensive back Antuan Edwards as a punt returner made the veteran Howard expendable. In addition, rookie Donald Driver has become the Packers' fourth receiver.
"The other guys have performed better, and that's really the motivation behind this," Wolf said.
Howard enjoyed the best season of his checkered eight-year NFL career with the Packers in 1996, when he set the NFL record for punt return yardage and set a team record by returning three punts for touchdowns.
He had 244 return yards in the Packers' 35-21 Super Bowl win over New England, including a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He became the first special-teams player to be named Super Bowl MVP.
Howard signed with Oakland before the 1997 season in a bid for playing time at receiver. After two disappointing seasons with the Raiders during which he caught just six passes, Wolf re-signed Howard in the hope he could "recreate the magic" he had in 1996.
"I can duplicate the effort, and that's my intention," the Cleveland native said in June.
Wolf took a gamble in signing Howard, but he wisely hedged his bet considerably. In a reflection of how far Howard's stock had fallen since 1997, the first two years of his latest deal with the Packers were worth just $1.21 million, with the final $4.5 million coming only if he were able to stay with the team for the final two years of the four-year deal.
He also received just $290,000 in a signing bonus, a pittance compared to the $2.1 million he got from the Raiders just two seasons earlier. In signing with the Packers, Howard said he wanted to play for a winner and to play for Rhodes, who said several Packers had urged the team to re-sign Howard.
Wolf said he hadn't spoken to Howard personally by late Tuesday, and the move may have caught him by surprise. Howard's agent, Leigh Steinberg, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The Packers (6-5) beat the 49ers 20-3 on Monday night in San Francisco for their second straight win, and a grinning Howard was interviewed on the sideline during the game. Howard said he hoped to return to action soon.
Howard, the Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan in 1992, was the fourth overall pick in that year's draft. After three years in Washington, he was selected by Jacksonville in the expansion draft and spent a year with the Jaguars before signing with the Packers.