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Outside of Kenny Vaccaro, Safety Free Agent Pool is Shallow and Expensive

The Saints have good reason to be wary of paying Kenny Vaccaro, but unless they strike gold again in the draft, their equal quality options on the free agent market are few at best.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro is one of the team’s most valuable free agents this offseason. Drew Brees is obviously more valuable, but his future is all but certain to remain in New Orleans. Vaccaro’s up and down play coupled with his history of PED suspension and frequent injury makes him extremely difficult to trust with a large multi-year second contract.

My guess is that if the Saints were interested in retaining Vaccaro, they would have already worked out a deal to extend him past his fifth-year option contract. His value on the open market will be determined when free agency opens on March 14, and because there just aren’t many quality safeties available, Vaccaro may command a big pay day from other suitors.

There are several interesting prospects available in free agency at the safety position, but most appear either too expensive or too old to feel like an upgrade from Vaccaro.

Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett, age 29, has been a lone bright spot on the Packers’ mediocre defense. He earned an 83.6 opponent passer rating in 2017, but again, due to a limited pool of free agent safety talent, Burnett could command between $9-11Million per year, and that’s just too much for a player who is solid but not a stellar.

Los Angeles’ Lamarcus Joyner, age 27, turned into a star for the Rams under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after being misused by Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams the first three years of his career.

He finished the season ranked as PFF’s #3 safety despite playing in only 12 games and posted 49 tackles, nine passes defensed, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and one forced fumble. He too will most likely command $9-10Million a year, though his value is incredibly dependent on how effectively he is utilized by his defensive coordinator.

Los Angeles’ Tre Boston, age 25, bet on himself with a one-year deal with the Chargers and it’s about to pay off big time. He racked up 5 interceptions and earned a reputation as a fantastic coverage player, though he missed a few key tackles.

His youth is a plus, but he’s more of a free safety instead of a strong safety, and the Saints are more in need of someone who can stop the run and complement the rangier free safety Marcus Williams. Boston will also likely command at least $7-8 million per year.

There is a player who, in my opinion, is similar in style and production to Vaccaro and may not be quite as expensive; yet San Francisco’s Eric Reid could be an even bigger question mark than Vaccaro.

He too has struggled with injury, particularly a worrisome history of multiple concussions. His outspoken political stance alongside Colin Kaepernick clouds his projected value because many teams will weigh his play against their worry that he could disrupt their fragile locker room dynamics.

No one understands how his personal beliefs may affect his free agency value more than Reid himself. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘concerned.’ I’d say I understand that that’s a possibility, and I’m completely fine with that. The things that I’ve done, I stand by. And I’ve done that for my own personal beliefs. Like I said I’m fine with whatever outcome comes because of that.”

The former LSU Tiger, Reid (2017 PFF grade of 81.4) is almost a full year younger than Vaccaro (2017 PFF grade of 35.4), though they both were drafted in 2013. Their stats are very comparable through their first five seasons. Vaccaro has played in 68 games while starting 67. Reid has played in 70 games while starting 69.

Vaccaro has eight interceptions, 29 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one touchdown, 7.5 sacks, and 283 tackles. Reid has 10 interceptions, 36 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one sack, and 264 tackles. Besides Vaccaro’s stronger ability to get to the quarterback and Reid’s stronger ability to deny receivers, their play and production are nearly identical.

Reid’s play has earned him the right to command between $8-9Million a year, but there’s just no telling what kind of money teams will throw at him. I definitely think he’s worth looking at and if his protest history gives other franchises pause, the Saints should consider him as a worthy replacement.

Given the Saints’ history of parting ways with socially conscious players in the past (ie. Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Stills), I don’t expect them to give Reid a serious look, but they should. Both Jenkins and Stills have excelled for their current teams while proving to be great locker room leaders.

Ironically, Jenkins heads the NFL Players’ Coalition, which Eric Reid pulled out from because it appeared, in his eyes, more like Malcolm Jenkins’ and Anquan Boldin’s organization, rather than the players’ as a whole.

The limited field of affordable safety talent available this offseason in free agency could very well push the Saints towards bolstering the position in the draft. This year the Saints have eight picks (1st round, 3rd round, 4th round, 5th round, 5th round, 6th round, 6th round, and 7th round).

Safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams were both selected in the second round, but the Saints don’t have a second round pick this year after trading theirs to move up and select Alvin Kamara last year.

I don’t think the Saints would use their first round pick on a safety and the third round may be too late to get a real difference maker, but after last year’s draft success, I have full confidence in the front office’s ability to replace Vaccaro if they decide to let him walk.


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