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News » Saints take on Sharper image

Saints take on Sharper image

Saints take on Sharper image
The Saints finally agreed to a long-anticipated deal with free-agent safety Darren Sharper on Wednesday, filling their most glaring need with one of the top playmakers in NFL history.

They also announced a one-year agreement with tight end/special-teamer Darnell Dinkins. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Sharper, 33, will bring a veteran presence to the Saints' much-maligned secondary. They're also hoping he can bring some of the dynamic ability that made him a four-time Pro Bowler in his 12-year career with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.

Sharper leads all active NFL players with 54 interceptions, eight of which he returned for touchdowns (tied for fifth in league history). He has forced nine fumbles, recovered seven fumbles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns.

He had one interception last season with the Vikings -- the lowest total of his career. Although he may have some wear on the tires, he is known for keeping himself in tremendous shape, and he has started every game during the past three seasons.

"I'm excited to bring leadership to this team, and I'm excited to bring playmaking ability. . . . that's what I've always done," said Sharper, who explained that he just didn't get as many opportunities as usual last season -- a good thing for the successful Vikings defense. But he doesn't feel like he has suffered a dropoff.

"When I started Free Agency, the Saints were one of the teams at the top of my list. I know the relationship between me and (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) will be a great one, and I'm excited to play for Sean Payton. This is a team that is getting close. The only thing left to do is win a championship."

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said, "Of course we think he has something left in the tank, or we wouldn't have signed him.

"I think, No. 1, you have to look at his r?sum? and how long he's been in the league, the success that he's had. I think if you look at what we've got at the back end right now, most of our guys are in the front end of their career.

"I think adding some experience to that group with a veteran who's had some success -- a lot of success, really -- can be very valuable to us."

Williams has repeatedly identified the free safety position as one of the most important on the field, saying that the free safety and the middle linebacker are the two "quarterbacks" of the defense, responsible for making checks and audibles.

He also labeled Sharper earlier this week as a player he has always "liked from afar."

Sharper likely came at a reasonable price. The Saints targeted Sharper early in Free Agency and brought him to New Orleans for a visit more than two weeks ago. But they were intent to not overspend to fill the void, and they will still look hard at the position in next month's draft.

Loomis and Sharper's agent, Joel Segal, both said they were taking their time to make sure it was the right fit.

Sharper is eager to play for Williams, who says he likes to adapt his defense to feature the strong suits of his players. He said although the Vikings' Tampa 2 zone defense is an effective one, it can restrict an individual's ability to make plays.

"He's going to let playmakers be playmakers," Sharper said of Williams.

Sharper said he was a little disappointed that Free Agency, "seems to be a youth movement," but he said, "if you continue to make plays on Sunday, teams will still give you an opportunity."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder will likely be penciled in as the starting free safety heading into the offseason, but he will have to compete with incumbent starter Kevin Kaesviharn, plus any additions.

"He's a guy that obviously we spent a lot of time on, and we're excited that we could add him to the mix on defense to help improve our secondary play," Payton said. "He is a player with extremely good ball skills. We'll see if he handles that (quarterback of the defense) role for us. But certainly his experience is going to help."

Payton has an even better idea of what to expect from Dinkins, an eight-year veteran who began his NFL career with the New York Giants when Payton was the offensive coordinator.

Dinkins, who played semi-pro ball after his college career at Pittsburgh, originally tried out as a quarterback with the Giants, with Payton running his audition. Eventually, he switched to wide receiver, then to tight end, where he finally found his niche. But he made an even bigger impact on special teams, where he turned heads by blocking a punt in his first preseason.

"Shoot, every morning he'd be in my office drawing plays on my grease board, wearing me out," Payton recalled. "He's gotten bigger and really found his niche in this league as a great blocker and special teams contributor. And he's a great kid to be around. He's sharp. He came up the hard way. He really knows what his role is."

Dinkins, 32, has played for the Giants, Ravens and Browns. The 6-4, 260-pounder has 25 career receptions for 228 yards and three touchdowns.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 19, 2009

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Ernest Wilford Name: Ernest Wilford
Position: WR
Age: 29
Experience: 5 years
College: Virginia Tech
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