How should Saints handle Darren Sharper?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune is running a poll that asks readers what the Saints should do with Darren Sharper.

This is a complicated and delicate situation, because Sharper became a fan favorite last season as the veteran safety stepped right in and helped lead the Saints to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. But Sharper hasn’t practiced yet this preseason as he recovers from knee surgery.

The Saints haven’t said much about a timetable for a return, but there aren’t many indications that Sharper is close to being ready. In the early voting results on the poll, the overwhelming answer from fans is the Saints should do nothing with Sharper’s roster spot and just hope he’s able to come back.

That’s a nice thought in an ideal world. But this isn’t an ideal world, and the reality is, even if Sharper gets back on the field soon, he might not be the same guy he was a year ago. He’s a 34-year-old safety coming off surgery. Sure, athletes can make remarkable recoveries, and it’s not like Sharper would need time to learn a defense he knows as well as anyone.

If Brett Favre shows up on opening night in the Superdome, there’s no one you’d rather have playing center field than Sharper – if he’s healthy or even close to it. That would be a heck of a story, but I’m not sure it will happen.

The other two options in the poll are to cut Sharper or place him on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list to open the season. I don’t think cutting Sharper is a good idea. If the Saints simply don’t think he can play again, Sharper needs to realize that and retire gracefully.

The PUP list might be the most realistic option. It would buy Sharper some more recovery time, and give the Saints a roster spot. They’ve been practicing all offseason with Malcolm Jenkins as the first-team free safety, and all indications are he’s doing well.

Maybe putting Sharper on the shelf until midseason is the best option for the Saints. If he’s not healthy, he’s not going to do the Saints a lot of good at the start of the season. If he comes back healthy around midseason, Sharper’s experience and leadership could be a big boost for a team that’s likely to be in the middle of the playoff race.