Packers better off without Sharper

Veteran safety's shortcomings outweigh his success

On Wednesday in the Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field, Darren Sharper was a popular topic of conversation between the amassed media and players and coaches. With the ex-Packers safety returning to Green Bay for the first time as a Viking this Monday night and having a "SportsCenter-highlight" season, it is easy to figure out why.

Sharper spent the first eight years of his NFL career in Green Bay, intercepting passes, scoring touchdowns, and playing under a big, fat contract. He is doing those same things in Minnesota this year, and for it, is being showered with accolades, including from his ex-coach, Mike Sherman.

"He's playing great football right now," said Sherman. "He's running around making plays. He's having fun. He's a great player. You certainly have to know where he is at all times."

With five interceptions this year and two interception returns for touchdowns, Sharper has been a highlight reel by himself. However, the Packers made the right move when they released him this past March for reasons more than just his hefty contract.

Sharper's play was inconsistent, if not declining, in 2004, and the Packers had no reason to believe that type of play would not continue. He did nurse a knee injury in his final season with the Packers, but he has shown over the course of his career that he misses tackles, uses poor tackling techniques, and takes bad angles with more frequency than he creates turnovers. His interception totals often give him a more lofty status than he perhaps deserves.

Sharper also may have been a victim of the Bob Slowik experiment, where even as the lead veteran on the Packers' defense a year ago, he could not rectify the problems of the unit under the one-year defensive coordinator. When Slowik was fired, GM Ted Thompson was hired, and defensive coordinator Jim Bates has overhauled the defense, most notably at the safety position. It was predictable then that Sharper would be released and the Packers would choose to go in a different direction.

As it turns out, the Packers got a surprise draft pick in second-rounder Nick Collins, who has taken over for Sharper with a different style. He has not been the turnover hound Sharper is, but he has been a sure tackler, a big hitter, a faster safety, and an intimidator, just what the Packers needed. That is not to say Collins is necessarily better than Sharper, but he is a better fit for Bates' system. As a result, the Packers' defense has been more confident and consistent. The defense is ranked 10th in the league, up 15 spots from a year ago. The Vikings are 28th, the same as a year ago.

A day after his three-interception game against the Giants, Sharper was already looking forward to his second meeting against the Packers and Brett Favre.

"I think that first game he and I were trying to really just play our own game, not really worry about one another," Sharper told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I know I didn't try to do anything as far as gambling. I just wanted to play my position and not try to get caught up in the moment of playing my former team. It will be interesting to see if I do that on Monday night."

Certainly the no-brainer decision in letting Sharper go was that he was that he was due a reported $2.6 million roster bonus this past March and would have counted $8.6 million against the Packers' cap this season, two numbers which certainly did not represent his value for the upcoming season. The Packers asked Sharper to take a pay cut, but the two sides could not come even come close to any common ground.

Packers' fans may cringe when they see Sharper making plays, as he did last week, on highlight shows, and he even may be a good bet to pick off Favre this week, but remember he misses as many plays as he makes. That may be the biggest of all reasons that he no longer plays for the Packers.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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