When the Saints selected safety Kenny Vaccaro with their first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft it was somewhat of a shock. Mainly because it wasn't seen to be the position of most need for the team who was thought to likely be drafting pass-rushing linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Immediately the sense became that the organization was sending a message to safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, that it was time to either move up or move on in the upcoming season. While head coach Sean Payton wouldn't speculate, the message seemed to be directed at Harper.
Jenkins was said to be made aware that the Saints might pick Vaccaro if he fell to them and Jenkins was said to embrace the challenge. He told NOLA.com, "I know Coach Payton is a big believer in this, and I wholeheartedly agree that competition breeds excellence. The best years that we've had is when we have a lot of competition for positions."
Harper meanwhile has been pretty silent on the matter and was out of town at the time of the draft, but did tweet this to his new teammate:
While Jenkins is on notice as well, Vaccaro is likely slotted at the strong safety spot that Harper occupies. And let's be realistic here, the Saints didn't burn a first round pick on a safety to not have him see some substantial playing time.
And while we're being realistic, let's not forget the $7.1 million salary cap hit that Harper will give the team with $5.25 million of that being his base salary. Needless to say the end does not justify the means when it comes to his production vs. his contract.
It's actually surprising that Harper hasn't taken a contract restructure like many of his teammates to free up salary cap space, and rumors began to fly that the team would either cut or trade him if he didn't comply. Yet here we are and Harper still remains on the roster.
Who will be in competition for Harper's spot besides Vaccaro? Incumbents on the team such as Isa Abdul-Quddus, Jerico Nelson, and Rafael Bush will greatly relish the chance to see more playing time like they did this past season.
Harper did have an amicable season in 2012 where he notched 115 tackles, 11 passes defended, and 2 interceptions. The last stat is a biggie for Harper because he hadn't had an interception since 2010 earning him the fan label of "NCMFer."
It's possible that the Saints are hoping that some competition will light a fire under Harper and force him to be the safety they saw when they drafted him in 2006, and the safety they saw in 2007 during his blazing sophomore year with 90 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 passes defended, 3 interceptions (one for a touchdown), and 2 forced fumbles.