Agent, team unable to reach middle ground
Unable to continue carrying his lofty salary-cap charge and unwilling to pay him a $2.6 million roster bonus due Friday, the Packers on Thursday released two-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper, ESPN.com has learned.
While anticipated for the past few weeks, the move is no less painful for the Packers, the only team with which Sharper has played in his eight-year career. The Packers and agent Joel Segal negotiated into Thursday but were not able to reach middle ground. Green Bay had sought to have Sharper reduce his compensation to about $2 million for 2005, roughly one-third of what he was scheduled to earn.
Had the Packers not gotten Sharper onto Thursday's waiver wire by the time it closed at 4 p.m. ET, they would have been liable for the roster bonus. The move saved Green Bay about $3.4 million in cap room.
"Both sides worked diligently to try to get something done, but we just couldn't finish it off," Segal said. "Darren really appreciates the concerted effort the Packers made to try to keep him. The numbers just didn't work for us or for them. So now we'll see just what the market is out there."
Although the free agent signing binge has slowed considerably in recent days, and Sharper plays a position not often regarded as a high priority by many teams, he figures to draw interest from teams seeking to improve their interior secondary. The Packers clearly believe the 29-year-old Sharper's performance has declined some, but several other teams still hold him in high regard.
ESPN.com has learned that Sharper will meet with Minnesota Vikings officials on Friday.
One league personnel director, citing the acquisition of aging safety Rodney Harrison by the New England Patriots two years ago, insisted Sharper can still make an impact. He is not as physical a hitter as Harrison but has better range.
Sharper is coming off a difficult 2004 season, one in which his productivity dropped but also one in which he played most of the year with a partial tear in the posterior cruciate ligament of his left knee. Despite the injury, Sharper missed only one game and three starts -- and still led the Packers with four interceptions.
The former William & Mary player, a second-round choice in 1997, has played both safety positions and his versatility was always considered a plus by Green Bay defensive coordinators who could game-plan around his abilities. Earlier in his career, Sharper was a threat against the run, on the blitz and in pass coverage. Even if that skills-set has waned a bit, he will have some suitors.
In 121 appearances, including 105 starts, Sharper has 610 tackles, 36 interceptions, 79 passes defensed, six sacks and six forced fumbles. He has at least one interception in every season but 1998 and, since '99 has never had fewer than three pickoffs. Four times in his career, Sharper posted 80-plus tackles, with a career high of 113 in 1999.
Sharper was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad following the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.