I think everyone in the WDN, including me, is bracing themselves for the possibility of the Saints going to camp next summer without the biggest defensive play-maker of our first and only title season. I've seen quite a few people express confidence bordering on certainty that Darren Sharper will be back under a gold helmet when we kick off as defending champs. But, given the obvious dissatisfaction with the situation on his part, the proposition of him returning seems to be about as close to 50/50 as you can get, and it's got me a little worried.
Yes, most are fully on board with re-signing him and wouldn't have had a moment's second thought about putting the tag on him and paying him six-point-whatever million. But for myself, I have to admit, that's less to do with front office acumen, of which I have little (OK, none), than with a sense of personal loyalty and nostalgia. It'd be sad to see, so soon, one of our most charismatic and highlight friendly championship veterans acrimoniously depart and sadder to get an unfortunate glimpse of the sausage-making that goes into creating Pigskin Paradise on Airline Drive.
So, in an attempt to steel myself for the worst-case scenario, I'm trying to break through my SB glow and invite in a little realism. One fellow over at Football Outsiders has examined last year's Saints' defensive performance and put together a more front-office type assessment of Darren Sharper's value to the team (scroll down at link). He argues that most of the credit for the improved pass defense belongs to Jabari Greer (I agree totally with this) and that chances of Sharper enjoying another season like he had in 2009 is a long-shot.
. . . whoever signs Sharper this offseason will be paying for last year's interception total, Jabari Greer's excellent play, and a reasonable amount of veteran leadership. Of course, if veteran leadership was so important, the Vikings probably wouldn't have let go of Sharper in the first place.
Now, a grain of salt: to justify their "outsider" status, we all know the guys over at FO do their best to come up with any counter-intuitive angle they can to buck conventional wisdom and prove they're smarter than everyone else (I thought that early season "NFL parity is dead!" meme that they basically started and on which sports media harped for a few weeks was total BS; Saints as new champions, Jets in the AFC Championship game, the Chargers and Pats both one-and-done, Steelers out of the playoffs, etc. puts the lie to that).
But sometimes they are smarter than everyone else, and they're almost always the most objective. Certainly Sharper came up big early on, but to be honest, there were a few times in the biggest games late last season where I was wondering, "When is Sharper going to show up?"
So anyway, you don't have to agree totally with their curt dismissal of one of the all-time great Saints ballhawking heroes (I certainly don't), but at least there might be a little something to console us if we lose him.