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Will Darren Sharper be Back with the Saints in 2011?

I miss 2009 Darren Sharper
I miss 2009 Darren Sharper

On the heels of talking about all the Saints free agents and who they'll re-sign and who won't come back, I ask this simple question: will Darren Sharper be with the Saints in 2011?

By now you all know how the story goes: Sharper joins the Saints in 2009 at 33 when most say he's finished and he has one of the best years of his career. He picks off a career high tying 9 passes, goes to the Pro Bowl and helps the Saints win the Super Bowl. Then he goes into the off-season and has microfracture surgery on knee, misses half of last season and, when he does play, he's a shell of the player that won over the hearts of all Who Dats everywhere.

During that diminished 2010 season, Malcolm Jenkins was also busy proving that he could handle a move to free safety. More than that, Jenkins has proven that he's ready to step into Sharper's shoes and be his heir effective immediately. So where does that leave Sharper?

We all have to believe that Sharper is healthier now than he was entering 2010. But will he able to regain his 2009 form, or will he just be slightly better than 2010? Identifying how good he's going to perform is the hardest part. He's now 35 and he's given the Saints two very different seasons to look back on from a performance point of view.

At this point we know Sharper isn't going to command a large salary and we know that no team will invest in him with a long term contract or a guaranteed starting spot based on how his last offseason went. At this point in his career, especially at his age after last season, it's more on Sharper to prove he can still play than anything else. I know he believes he can and I believe he can, but that's what's in question at this point. For that reason, I think finances are out the window. The Saints can have him if they want him, and they won't have to compete with some random exorbitant offer.

So let's assume he's going to be in better shape than 2010, but not quite as good as 2009. Do the Saints want that? Or would they rather have Malcolm Jenkins playing free safety full time with a younger backup that can also twilight on special teams? Last year when Sharper was healthy enough to play, the Saints had Jenkins at free safety on 1st and 2nd down before moving him to nickel on passing downs and bringing Sharper in to play free safety.

Sharper didn't excel in that scheme for two reasons. One, he was still recovering and wasn't in the same form as the previous season. Two, he claimed that he came in cold and never really got into rhythm because he was constantly being shuffled on and off the field. What also bothered me about the musical chairs on defense was that Jenkins' head was probably swimming. It would be nice, especially for a young player like him, to focus on just one position.

Anyway, my theory is that's all the Saints will ever be able to extend to Sharper again from a playing standpoint unless Jenkins goes down. The full time starter at free safety is not an option for Sharper anymore. Best case scenario, he's a situational safety behind Jenkins like last year. If he's unable to get into a rhythm getting plugged into random scenarios, then he has little value to the team. If he can't make the most of limited time of the field, then you leave him on the bench unless full time playing becomes available.

Based on the above, I think the only use the Saints have for Sharper is as a full time backup to Jenkins. That's an expensive backup to keep around, but it would be a very good one. Would Sharper accept that kind of role at this point in his career? I'm not so sure. We're talking about a diminished role even from what little he saw last year. That said, Jenkins did go down to injury and Sharper ending up starting the playoff game. Is it better to be a backup on a playoff team or a starter on a terrible team at the age of 35?

So many things to consider when you ponder the question, but ultimately I ask you again: will the Saints re-sign Darren Sharper?