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Sharper: Retirement just one option if lockout cuts into season

METAIRIE, La. -- Even as Darren Sharper discussed how fresh he feels, and how ready he is to extend his highlight-filled NFL career to a 15th season, he allowed himself to utter the word "retirement."

The uncertainty surrounding the NFL lockout has left the five-time Pro Bowl safety considering some vastly different scenarios for this fall.

If the lockout wipes out the season, it could hasten the retirement of a player whose 63 career interceptions make him -- at least for now -- the NFL's active leader in that category.

Yet, if it merely shortens the season, or leads to abbreviated training camps, that could give Sharper an edge in his effort to sign a third free-agent contract in three seasons.

"If there's no football in the fall, I'll have to start looking at other options -- maybe some television, or whatever," said Sharper, 35. "But right now, my goal and my focus is playing football, and that's why I'm working out now to be ready for the season ... if it starts."

Although Sharper remains open to playing anywhere, he said his preference would be to stay in New Orleans, where he has been training with Saints players who gathered for workouts organized by quarterback Drew Brees at Tulane last month.

Sharper also is continuing his charity work in New Orleans, announcing Wednesday that he'll host an event July 23 at a suburban minor-league baseball stadium to benefit his foundation for children, as well as the American Cancer Society and a local blood bank.

Saints players and local celebrities are lined up to participate in a home run derby -- with $10,000 going to a charity chosen by the winner -- and a softball game, along with a tailgate-style cook-off and other festivities.

Sharper scheduled the event close to the time the Saints normally would report for training camp at their suburban New Orleans headquarters. Yet, as doubts grow concerning if camps will start on time, Sharper is trying to see the bright side.

A delay would give coaches less time to evaluate or develop young talent, and render more valuable the experience of veterans such as Sharper.

"It's going to benefit older guys that have played the game and know how to play the game," Sharper said. "The thing that I'm looking forward to is, if it gets worked out and it's only a couple weeks of teams being able to prepare, especially offenses being able to prepare and get on timing, I think I'm going to have a great opportunity to take advantage of a lot of those missed, off-timed passes.

"So I'm a little bit excited to see how it's going to work out."

Sharper has spent his past two seasons in New Orleans, each time on a one-year contract. In 2009, he intercepted nine passes, returning three for scores, was named All-Pro and helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl. Last season, he struggled after offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee, which led the Saints to place him on the physically unable to perform list to open the season.

After sitting out the first six games, Sharper came back to play in eight, starting only once, and didn't have any interceptions for just the second time in his 14 seasons.

Sharper didn't want his career to end that way, and he said he feels far more healthy now.

"I've never dealt with a season as frustrating as the past year was, not only not getting back to the Super Bowl and having a chance to repeat, but just not being healthy all year long, nagging injuries, not being able to play like myself," Sharper said. "If I'm going to go out and it's going to be my last year, I want to make sure I go out and leave a mark that year and play at the level that I've played throughout my career. I don't want to be remembered as a guy that hobbled his way out of the league. So that's a little bit of motivation that I have right now."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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