Sharper vaults to Vikings

The changing of the guard in the NFC North took a seismic shift when safety Darren Sharper signed with the rival Minnesota Vikings.

The move underscores an overwhelming transformation by both teams. For the Packers, Sharper joins guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle as starters who exited the hallowed halls of Lambeau Field.

For the Vikings, the signing is yet another big-ticket addition bound to transform the chronic underachievers. In the last couple weeks the Vikings have traded Randy Moss for a possible star in linebacker Napoleon Harris and a first-round draft pick, signed standout defensive tackle Pat Williams and inked lockdown cornerback Fred Smoot.

The Vikings' Achilles' heel has been pass defense, but that shouldn't be an issue anymore with Sharper joining Smoot and Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings' marquee addition last off-season.

"This has been a team on the brink of getting over the hump and going to the Super Bowl," Sharper told the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis. "The one thing that always held this team back was its defense. But I think with what they're doing this off-season, we have a chance to have one of the top defenses in the league and get over that hump."

The Packers wanted Sharper to swallow a drastic cut in salary — he was slotted to count $8.3 million against the cap and was due a $2.6 million roster bonus on Friday. Sharper and the Packers couldn't come to terms, so he was released Thursday. Sharper's deal with the Vikings is a reported four years and $4 million per season.

Minnesota's defense ranked 28th in the league last season., including 27th against the pass. Sharper, who ranks fifth in team history with 36 interceptions, should help considerably. Even with a subpar season due in large part to a knee injury that slowed him for the second half of the season, Sharper picked off a team-high four passes. His three touchdowns underscore his big-play ability.

"I'm pretty sure the Packers know what they lost. And if they don't, they'll find out twice this year," Sharper said.

That's exactly what new Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn't want to hear.

"I would have just as soon seen (Sharper go) to an AFC team," Thompson said. "Darren's a good player and I'm sure he'll do a good job for Minnesota."

Talking about his new coach, Mike Tice, Sharper took a parting shot at the Packers and head coach Mike Sherman.

"I heard people say that he was a player's coach, and I got a sense he definitely was," Sharper told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I could talk to him and not feel awkward. I could never say that in Green Bay. Not to rip anybody, but I never felt I could do that with the head coach in Green Bay."

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