Sharper looking at the lockout from all angles

Even as Darren Sharper discussed how fresh he feels, and how
ready he is to extend his highlight-filled pro career to a 15th
season, he allowed himself to utter the word, ”retirement.”

The uncertainty surrounding the NFL lockout has left the
five-time Pro Bowl safety considering some vastly different
scenarios for this fall.

If the lockout wipes out the season, it could hasten the
retirement of a player whose 63 career interceptions make him – at
least for now – the NFL’s active leader in that category.

Yet, if it merely shortens the season, or leads to abbreviated
training camps, that could give Sharper an edge in his effort to
sign a third free-agent contract in as many seasons.

”If there’s no football in the fall, I’ll have to start looking
at other options – maybe some television, or whatever,” said
Sharper, 35. ”But right now, my goal and my focus is playing
football and that’s why I’m working out now to be ready for the
season … if it starts.”

Although Sharper remains open to playing anywhere, he said his
preference would be to stay in New Orleans, where he’s been
training with Saints players who gathered for workouts organized by
quarterback Drew Brees at Tulane last month.

Sharper also is continuing his charity work in New Orleans,
announcing on Wednesday that he’ll host an event on July 23 at a
suburban minor league baseball stadium to benefit his foundation
for children, as well as the American Cancer Society and a local
blood bank.

Saints players and local celebrities are lined up to participate
in a home run derby – with $10,000 going to a charity chosen by the
winner – and a softball game, along with a tailgate-style cook-off
and other festivities.

Sharper scheduled the event close to the time the Saints
normally would report for training camp at the club’s suburban New
Orleans headquarters. Yet, as doubts grow concerning whether camps
will start on time, Sharper is trying to see the bright side.

A delay would give coaches less time to evaluate or develop
young talent, and render more valuable the experience of veterans
like Sharper.

”It’s going to benefit older guys that have played the game and
know how to play the game,” Sharper said. ”The thing that I’m
looking forward to is, if it gets worked out and it’s only a couple
weeks of teams being able to prepare, especially offenses being
able to prepare and get on timing, I think I’m going to have a
great opportunity to take advantage of a lot of those missed,
off-timed passes.

”So I’m a little bit excited to see how it’s going to work
out.”

Sharper has spent his past two seasons in New Orleans, each time
on a one-year contract. In 2009, he intercepted nine passes,
returning three for scores, was named All-Pro and helped the Saints
win their first Super Bowl. Last season, he struggled after
offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee, which led the
Saints to place him on the physically-unable-to-perform list to
open the season.

After sitting out the first six games, he came back to play in
eight, starting only once, and did not have any interceptions for
only the second time in his 14 seasons.

Sharper didn’t want his career to end that way, and said he
feels far more healthy now.

”I’ve never dealt with a season as frustrating as the past year
was, not only not getting back to the Super Bowl and having a
chance to repeat, but just not being healthy all year long, nagging
injuries, not being able to play like myself,” Sharper said. ”If
I’m going to go out and it’s going to be my last year, I want to
make sure I go out and leave a mark that year and play at the level
that I’ve played throughout my career. I don’t want to be
remembered as a guy that hobbled his way out of the league. So
that’s a little bit of motivation that I have right now.”