Free Safety Darren Sharper is arguably the second most popular player on the New Orleans Saints 2009 roster.
If Saints fans had the option of checking a box on their season ticket renewal forms so that $30 from the recent steep ticket hike went directly to retain his services, Sharper would have his love and his money. But that’s not the case.
Though being 34 years of age and having clocked 14 seasons in the league, Sharper had the best year of his playing career, snagging 9 interceptions for the third time in a single season, returning picks for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns. The latter two milestones were career bests.
Perhaps the former Viking had a nip of some of Brett Favre’s “Fountain of Youth” energy drink.
Yet despite his astounding athletic feats and easily outplaying his one year $1,704,000 contract with bonuses, the Saints organization has been in no hurry to hold on to the ballhawk.
Just as amazingly, as the jittery Black and Gold faithful approach the fourth week of free agency, neither has any other team gone after what most people consider a hot commodity.
A large part of that mystery was solved on the evening of the Saints DVD release at The Prytania Theater when Sharper hobbled out of a chauffeured vehicle on crutches as the dozens of Saints fans gathered outside the Crescent City’s landmark movie house gasped collectively.
Sharper played down his condition, saying he had arthroscopic knee surgery to fix knee problems that plagued him after mid-season.
Recovering from surgery is going to inhibit working out with other teams, giving the Saints front office time to put together a new deal.
Saints fans are understandably frustrated that the brass, after raising ticket prices, perceiving that the organization is being cheap with a beloved player that contributed more than most players towards the Saints’ Super Bowl run.
However most people aren’t cognizant that the Saints already have one of the largest payrolls in the league.
The Saints should be hesitant to give Sharper a multiyear contract with big guaranteed money in what is the twilight of his career. How many times have the Saints mortgaged their future and invested big money in older players who had left their best days with the previous team?
Sharper was brought on to the team as a temporary fix; that he did so much exceeded everyone’s expectations, including the Saints who dragged their feet in signing him.
Granted it’s not my money (wait a minute, I just got my ticket invoice with the 40% mark-up, IT IS!), but the Saints should be willing to gamble more than they would ordinarily would in similar situations on Sharper remaining productive for another two seasons.
The Saints go into the NFL Draft in desperate need to address their front-seven with linebacker Scott Fujita’s departure and to fill the spot that defensive end Charles Grant somewhat adequately did, though at a premium. The Saints also need to beef up the defensive tackle position, maybe more so if restricted free agent Anthony Hargrove goes to the Detroit Lions.
Between the weak talent pool and the Saints inability to entice players due to the infamous “Rule of Four’, free agency has not been kind to the organization. In fact, they’ve yet to sign anyone from any other team as of yet.
It would be nice if addressing free safety were one less headache for general manager Mickey Loomis before the draft.
If the Saints are comfortable with overpaying running back Reggie Bush, then why should they pinch pennies with Sharper?