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Sharper puzzled by Saints' decision to let him test free-agent market

New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper wants to return to the Super Bowl champions. However, the fact that the Saints will allow Sharper to test free agency -- he was notified Monday that they wouldn't retain him with a franchise tag -- tells him that New Orleans is prepared to move on without him.

"They said they want me back, but if you want someone back, why are you going to let them test the market?," Sharper said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I don't know how much they want me back if they're allowing other teams to bid for my services. Being in this situation before, if a team is willing to let you test the market, they're willing to let you go."

Sharper, 34, earned Pro Bowl honors this past season after tying for a league-high nine interceptions, and he helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl title.

Sharper signed a one-year, $1.7 million free-agent deal with the Saints last year after being released by the Minnesota Vikings. Free agency begins March 5.

Sharper said he won't come as cheap as he did last year, be it with the Saints or anyone else. He didn't specify a price range but said he has a "couple good years left." If he's driving to earn a sizeable payday, he has to hope there are suitors. There weren't many last offseason, which is why Sharper signed with the Saints at such an affordable price.

"I'm going to want to be compensated market value," Sharper said. "Hopefully things work out (with the Saints). I know the system, and the team was more successful once I got there. They know the value. It's simple economics. You pay someone what they deserve. I was a bargain deal last year.

"It's tough because the fan base is great, and we had something special and we have a chance to repeat. It would be bad if I wasn't able to return. We'll see if they make me an offer that is competitive."

Had the Saints opted to use the franchise tag on Sharper, they would've had to pay him $6.455 million next season. By declining that price tag, the team seemingly could offer Sharper a deal that could pay him that salary or more over multiple years but not that much in 2010 -- if they opt to try to retain him.

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