Maybe it was the fact that one more off-field incident would lead to a definite 10-game suspension.
Perhaps it was the fact that he only stayed healthy for a full season one out of his five years in the black and gold
Or, could it be that the NFC South no longer has an elite tight end like Tony Gonzalez and Dennis Allen’s scheme is doing a better job of limiting production from that position since his arrival?
Whatever the case may be, it appears as if Kenny Vaccaro and the New Orleans Saints will be parting ways after a very storied tenure together.
Drafted 15th overall by the Saints in 2013, the former Texas Longhorn standout burst onto the scene as a rookie with the deflection of a Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez pass that resulted in a Roman Harper interception and win against the rival Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately, Vaccaro never again captured the same David Copperfield level of magic.
Following the departure of Roman Harper, Vaccaro was asked to play as a traditional strong safety and never looked completely comfortable. He would end up being temporarily benched during the 2014 season that saw him have a “come to Jesus” moment with Coach Sean Payton.
What was he benched for, might you ask?
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the team is going to bench talented second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro, per a source informed of the team’s plans. He’s made plenty of big plays this season, and Rapoport notes that he’s received “several” game balls. But Vaccaro’s overaggressive style has typified a defense that has lacked discipline and given up a ton of long gains.
Vaccaro rebounded. and the Saints brass would hit jackpot in his 3rd season when he was asked to return to the slot role he played as a rookie. He would go on to participate in all 16 games, producing 104 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble as he developed into a leader on a young team.
Then 2016 happened...
Having what was probably the best season of his career, Vaccaro was pegged for a four-game suspension in Week 13 by the league after testing positive for Adderall, causing him to forfeit the remainder of his season.
“I was just tired and I really wasn’t aware of the whole rule thing. The game’s early in the morning, the state fair was going on,” Vaccaro said. “I never took it before. I just did it, and it was just a dumb mistake by me, to be honest. And then I came back in Monday and had a random PED test. But that’s the rules, and I take full responsibility.
Over aggressiveness, not being aware of the rules, dumb mistakes...you see where this is going right? So, how did Kenny Vaccaro start off the 2017 season? By getting stared down by Drew Brees after hitting the QB’s arm in another “not so smart” move.
Kenny Vaccaro @KennyVaccaro4 sacks Drew Brees Monday. Brees was NOT happy about getting his arm hit at practice. Watch the #9 stare down. pic.twitter.com/X0AjpE31no— Doug Mouton (@DMoutonWWL) August 8, 2017
Still, the young safety was expected to be a big part of Dennis Allen’s plans for the 2017-2018 version of the Saints defense. Similar to Year 2, the Saints brass were expecting him to make the big leap (especially in a contract year) and become a more complete safety. Allen wanted to disguise coverage whenever feasible to confuse quarterbacks, and this would require interchangeable safeties.
“We want him to be an all-around safety,” Glenn said. “For him to be as effective as he can be, he has to be able to play back deep. He’s been doing that better.”
The experiment started out about the same as it did in 2014 with Vaccaro struggling the further away he got from the ball. Midway through the Saints Week 2 loss against the Patriots, the struggling 5th-year man was benched yet again for the second time in his career.
“I don’t know. I don’t what happened. I don’t know why I got pulled out the game. I didn’t understand.”
He would eventually regain his starting position, but the issues that plagued him for much of his career persisted at an alarming rate. In his press conference following their Week 15 game versus the Jets, Payton would go on a rant bout their penalties - “It shows up every week, same guys.”
The aggressiveness mentioned in the earlier quote would consistently come back to harm Vaccaro. He’d eventually account for 8 Penalties for 69 yards. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you factor in that Defensive Holding (4) and Pass Interference (2) were his main offenses, then you realize that every last one of his penalties resulted in automatic 1st Downs for the opposing offense.
That’s called hurting your defense/team.
The fact of the matter is that each and every Saints fan will miss what Vaccaro stood for and what he brought to the team. For many years, he and Cam Jordan were the heart and soul of some painfully bad defenses. He played with effort 100% of the time, and his versatility helped cover up a plethora of holes during his tenure.
With that being said, his inability to play as a traditional safety along with the prospect of a 10-game suspension hanging over his head like mistletoe resulted in the Saints deciding his services were no longer needed. That and the simple fact that a safety will never be able to cover as well as a cornerback in the slot. He might offer better tackling ability, but he’ll lose matchups to traditional wide receivers working out of the slot, and that’s why Vaccaro ranked at the bottom of PFF’s safety standings.
A change of scenery for both parties could do them well, and word on the street is that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are interested.
Sometimes for a Texas kid, there’s no place like home!