One of the more remarkable players competing this weekend is someone who’s still going strong despite being told by two franchises that he was no longer welcome -- the Packers and the Vikings. Darren Sharper is one of the more interesting players I’ve been around and, in an age when players often resort to tired adages and prepackaged clichés, is refreshingly honest.
While negotiating Darren's contract with the Packers in 2001 -- keeping him at a great cost on the eve of free agency -- I learned about negotiating without leverage. General manager Ron Wolf told me at the time to negotiate however firmly I felt comfortable but that when all was said and done, we needed to retain this player. Needless to say, Joel Segal, Darren's agent, held all the cards. And to make matters worse, when I walked to our meeting from my hotel to his office in New York, I noticed five people wearing Packers gear. The weight of Packer Nation was on me.
In a deal where I just held on for dear life, we made Darren the highest-paid safety in the history of football (getting a pay cut from fellow Packer safety LeRoy Butler, the ultimate team player, was a necessary part of getting it done). Darren played on that deal into the 2005 offseason when the decision was made that we would not try to get a pay cut from him. I knew he would refuse and, of course, he did, causing the Packers to release him. He was scooped up by the rival Vikings a day later with a four-year deal that he played out through 2008.
Last offseason, with only tepid interest from the Vikings or any other team, Sharper signed a one-year deal with the Saints and became the bargain of the year for $1.7 million. Now 34, Sharper will soon be an unrestricted free agent again, likely still cashing in even as an older player in a relatively low-paying position.
Darren, as mentioned above, was never shy about his opinion and was refreshingly honest. Whenever we had a hot young defensive back look good in practice, he would come over and ask me if that was the guy who was eventually going to push him off the roster. He always asked about our signings and roster moves, giving free advice as our pseudo-general manager. I remember debating whether to pay the high price needed to keep left tackle Chad Clifton in the fold. Darren said, “Go ahead and let him walk and watch Brett glare at you in the box every time he's sacked.” We signed Clifton the next week.
Darren was often accused of wanting to pad his interception totals toward making the Pro Bowl and getting paid. He didn’t deny that but remarked that every defensive back – no matter what they say -- wants the same thing, which is the cold truth. The ones who don't get the interceptions complain that too much is made of interception statistics, and the ones who do revel in the stats.
Now Darren gets a crack at one of the teams that made little effort to re-sign him, against a quarterback he knows as well as anyone in the league (indeed, before signing Darren in 2001, we had to work out a new deal for Brett). Darren will be back there playing center field as always, rangy and cagey as ever.
Kudos to Darren for maintaining a Sharper image.
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