Darren Sharper (Elsa/Getty)
The Vikings didn’t make much of an effort to re-sign safety Darren Sharper, so he will begin shopping his skills elsewhere. Plus, get other notes of Vikings interest as the free-agent carousel spins.
Darren Sharper’s offseason road tour is going to get underway Monday and, according to rumors surrounding the visit, it may be the last stop on an abbreviated free agent tour.
Sharper is set to meet with the New Orleans Saints, where they have new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams – the former head coach in Buffalo from 2001-03 and defensive coordinator with the Titans from 1997-2000, the Redskins from 2004-07 and Jacksonville last season – has been brought in to revive a New Orleans defense that was 23rd in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed last season.
Williams has always run a defense that is predicated on bringing a pass rush, which opens chances for interceptions for safeties in his system. Sharper is the kind of veteran presence that could be a big upgrade for the Saints, who have been pretty dismal in the secondary for the last few years. Last season, eight-year veteran Kevin Kaesviharn started at Sharper’s safety spot and was beaten on a regular basis, and 35-year-old veteran Lawyer Milloy isn’t expected back.
There is competition for the job, however. Gerald Sensabaugh of the Jaguars is currently visiting. If Williams liked what he saw of Sensabaugh last year, that could play in his favor.
What should help Sharper’s cause could be the potential ease that a contract could get done. The Saints have a longstanding relationship with Sharper’s agent, Joel Segal, who represents current Saints players Reggie Bush, Will Smith and Marques Colston. While the relationships between certain teams and specific agents can be akin to warfare, the word out of New Orleans is that the Saints and Segal have a cordial relationship, which would definitely tip the scales in Sharper’s favor as a short-term fix. Sharper has been something of an NFL ironman, missing just nine games in his 12-year career.
While Sensabaugh is a younger option than Sharper, his durability, experience and potentially lesser contract demands could make him the more sensible option for a Saints team that looks to be returning all of their 22 starters from 2008. If so, it could turn his potential free agent tour of the league into one-stop shopping.
If Sharper doesn’t work out a deal with the Saints, Chicago has also expressed an interest in bringing him in for a visit, according to the Pioneer Press. Seeing as Sharper has played his entire career in the NFC North Division and the Bears play a similar Tampa-2 defense as the Vikings do, it might make sense to stay closer to home because of his innate familiarity with the teams in the division. However, Sharper has felt his play-making abilities have been constricted by that defense in the past.
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is still in the Twin Cities as of this morning, but conflicting reports mean Housh could be having a busy Sunday. Reports from the NFL Network and ESPN say the free agent wide receiver is going to visit with both the Eagles and Buccaneers Sunday. However, newspaper reports out of Tampa say that no talks have been scheduled between Bucs official and Houshmandzadeh.
Instead, the Bucs re-signed wide receiver Michael Clayton on Saturday. The Vikings also expressed an interest in Clayton, but Houshmandzadeh appears to be their top target.
The Eagles seem like an unlikely alternative for Houshmandzadeh, since there has been something of a dust-up between the team and Houshmandzadeh’s agent. The Eagles are claiming he asked for more money in a contract with Philadelphia than he did with other teams considered to be in the bidding. Houshmandzadeh has said he expects to make a decision by Sunday night on who he wants to sign with. If he leaves town, that may not be a good sign, since the Vikings have a history of being a team that ratchets up the pressure when they get a free agent into town and typically get a deal done before he can leave and visit with other teams.
In addition to Sharper starting to make visits next week, it is expected that both Matt Birk and Heath Farwell, the other two key Vikings free agents, will start making visits to other teams.
Another player rumored to be on the Vikings’ radar – Ravens center Jason Brown – signed a five-year deal with St. Louis that will make the highest-paid center in the league. The five-year deal is reported to be worth a whopping $37.5 million, with $20 million of that money guaranteed.
The Matt Cassel trade to the Chiefs may have surprised some, considering the Chiefs gave up just the 34th pick in the draft for Cassel and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel, helping Kansas City address two pressing needs and only giving up one pick to do it. The Chiefs are currently set to draft No. 3 overall in April’s draft and, with quarterback off the table, they suddenly have a lot of flexibility to go after the best athlete in the draft – quite possibly linebacker Aaron Curry of Wake Forest.
A surprising turn to the Cassel signing involved the Broncos. Word leaked that the Broncos were talking to the Patriots about Cassel – serious enough discussions that they allegedly dangled Jay Cutler as trade bait as part of multi-team trade scenario. That all ended with Cassel going to the Chiefs, but now Cutler is extremely upset. He told the Denver Post he has heard he is still on the block and spoke of the Broncos in the past tense, saying, “I liked it here. I liked playing with these guys, but obviously they’re not going to let me have that opportunity.”
The Cowboys didn’t waste much time in replacing former Viking Brad Johnson as their backup quarterback. On Saturday, Dallas completed a trade with the Lions that will send Jon Kitna to the Cowboys for cornerback Anthony Henry.