March 18, 2009

Saints Add Co-Captain To Defense with Veteran Sharper

Former Packer, Viking is the active interception leader in the NFL at age 33 and start at free safety

The active interceptions leader in the NFL is now a Saint.

Veteran safety Darren Sharper has left Minnesota for New Orleans with a new contract and is immediately singing the praises of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

In an interview with the Pioneer Press, Sharper said "it's a chance to go the Super Bowl," when talking about the Saints.

"He's excellent. I talked to guys around the league, and they loved playing for him. He doesn't get caught up in, 'This is my system.' He utilizes his players to the best of their ability, and that's something I've been looking for the last couple of years," Sharper told the newspaper.

Sharper, who will be 34 this November, also indicated that he is looking forward to mentoring and "grooming" young safety Roman Harper, who will compete for the starting job at strong safety, though it is not a guarantee.

Saints CB Mike McKenzie was a teammate of Sharper for five and a half years in Green Bay, before McKenzie was traded to New Orleans during the 2004 season.

A product of the College of William and Mary, Sharper will be the first player from that school to play for the Saints.

Sharper leads all active players in interceptions with 54 but collected only one in 2008 during the Vikings' disappointing season. He has eight career touchdowns and has never missed more than three games in a single season. He has not missed a game in the past three seasons, and even played through the 2004 season despite a knee injury.

The Saints visited with Sharper in New Orleans almost three weeks ago at the onset of free agency but Sharper continued to test the waters. The only other team interested reportedly was Chicago, and Sharper decided not to continue his tour of the NFC North. Rumors of Sharper to the Saints surfaced in February.

The Saints may have preferred the younger Gerald Sensabaugh, who played for Williams last year in Jacksonville but opted to sign in Dallas instead. Sharper is only be a short-term solution for the Saints, who will likely still seek out a young safety in the draft. Aside from Harper, the Saints have 32-year old Kevin Kaesviharn, 29-year old Terrance Holt and 25-year old Chris Reis, though Reis and Holt have been limited to special teams so far. The Saints did not re-sign starting free safety Josh Bullocks, who is now a Chicago Bear.

Sharper has been to four Pro Bowls, most recently after the 2007 season.

Sharper is expected to be the Saints' defensive co-captain with middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and both will be expected to remain on the field on all downs. In Gregg Williams' scheme, there is less emphasis on "strong" and "free" safety. Sharper is leaving a Tampa 2 scheme run by Leslie Frazier in Minnesota that may not have been the best fit for Sharper.

The Saints also signed journeyman free agent TE Darnell Dinkins to a one year deal.

The former Giant, Raven and Brown, Dinkins, 32, 6'4, 260, is a good all-around tight end who isn't great at anything but is a willing competitor. He's never caught more than nine passes in any one of his eight seasons, and has a total of 10 career starts, no more than four in any season. The Saints have shored up their depth at the position.

Sharper's contract is for one year with a $1 million base salary, $200,000 signing bonus and $500,000 split over two roster bonuses after weeks six and twelve of the season.

A day after the arrival of Sharper, the Saints released veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie, which cleared more than $4.5 million in cap space.

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