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.”