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Darren Sharper "50/50" on return to New Orleans Saints in 2011

Darren Sharper (Photo by Dwayne Fatherree)Darren Sharper (Photo by Dwayne Fatherree)

NEW ORLEANS – The ongoing lockout has given veteran free safety Darren Sharper ample time to assess how he plans to spend what likely will be his 15th and last NFL season.

It appears the 35-year-old unrestricted free agent will have at least three viable options when NFL owners and players eventually agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement:

(1) Re-sign with the New Orleans Saints and play backup to third-year pro Malcolm Jenkins.

(2) Sign elsewhere with a team that will afford him a chance to start.

(3) Call it quits after a distinguished career (5 time Pro-Bowler, 63 INTs, 11 INTs returned for TD, member of NFL's all-decade 2000 team) and pursue a career in broadcasting.

For now, Option 3 is a last resort, an idle thought on a slow summer day.

“I’d say it’s a 50-50 chance that I’ll be back in New Orleans,’’ Sharper told SportsNOLA.com. “I’d be riding a dead horse if I thought that the kid (Jenkins) who is younger than me and came in and played well last year won’t be the projected starter. That would be idiotic of me to think otherwise.

“Malcolm Jenkins is the starting free safety for the New Orleans Saints. So the decision I have to make is do I want to come back and accept the backup role or do I want to go somewhere else with a chance to play more and line up with the first unit? Right now, I know I have the ability to start and be back playing at the level I did in 2009.’’

Asked if he would be content to play a reserve role in New Orleans, Sharper replied: “It was frustrating for me last year but I could deal with it better because I know I wasn’t 100 percent healthy. It would be tough for me this year, sitting on the sidelines, just watching, knowing that I’m 100 percent healthy and I can still play.’’

Sharper, a shell of himself last season after undergoing micro-fracture knee surgery in March 2010 following Super Bowl XLIV, currently is working out with a number of NFL players in Davenport, Fla., under the direction of renowned speed and conditioning coach Tom Shaw.

It is Sharper’s plan to be physically and mentally ready once the NFL resumes business as usual, knowing the signing frenzy will be fast and furious when free agency begins in earnest.

“There is no doubt in my mind that I can play the same way as I did in 2009,’’ said Sharper, referring to the Saints' Super Bowl season when he tied for the league-lead in interceptions with nine, including three returned for touchdowns. “I’m working out with guys who are healthy and younger than me here in Florida and I’m keeping up with them. Right now, I feel good and I can predict that I’m going to have a successful season.’’

Whether that prediction comes true in New Orleans or elsewhere remains to be seen.

“For me to say I want to come back to New Orleans because I think they’re going to be in the Super Bowl this year would be kind of stepping out,’’ Sharper said. “Some teams have a better shot than other teams to be in that last game, but you can never predict who’s going to be there.

“I know they have a great shot, and I know more than anything that I enjoyed playing there and I’m familiar with the coaching staff and my teammates. That’s why I’d want to go back there more than anything else. Of course, getting a second ring would be nice!’’

Sharper paused.

“I also know this: I’m still the property of the Saints because I can’t talk to anyone else during the lockout. Plus, I still have my clothes in my cubicle in the locker room, so, in my mind, I’m still the property of the New Orleans Saints.’’


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