Titans respond quickly with Kenny Vaccaro signing, and here's what they are getting

Joe Rexrode
The Tennessean
Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro (30) taps his toes along the sideline as he makes a catch during a training camp practice at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

To call Kenny Vaccaro’s arrival as the newest Tennessee Titans safety an upgrade over injured Johnathan Cyprien would be dismissive of both Cyprien and chemistry.

For one thing, late last season — especially in a playoff win at Kansas City — Cyprien was starting to look more deserving of the four-year, $25 million deal the Titans gave him in the 2017 offseason. For another, he was looking good in camp before tearing the ACL in his left knee in practice Wednesday, ending his season. He and rising star Kevin Byard were playing well off each other in a secondary that could be among the NFL’s best this season after the addition of free-agent corner Malcolm Butler.

So I suspect Cyprien was headed for a better second season with the Titans. The reaction from Mike Vrabel and several teammates to Cyprien’s loss speaks to his popularity in the locker room, but I think also to the way that defensive backfield was projecting. And the feel those guys seem to have for each other. Grabbing Vaccaro off the open market in early August should not be seen as an upgrade — but it is a timely and effective response.

Like Cyprien and Eric Reid, who reportedly had flight issues Friday and couldn’t make it to Nashville for a tryout, Vaccaro is a “box safety.” He’s a thumper more than a coverage guy, and as evidenced by his availability, the market for thumpers these days is not what it is for coverage guys.

The 2013 first-round pick, who spent his first five seasons with the Saints, has talent and has been productive. He had 104 of his 385 career tackles in 2015 and picked off eight passes in those five seasons, starting from the first game of his rookie season. He’s a good blitzer with 7.5 career sacks. He finished third in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2013.

Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro (30) warms up during a training camp practice at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

Three of those eight picks came early in 2017, but he was also benched briefly last season. It ended with groin surgery in December, and in 2016 he served a four-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall. He’s had well-documented issues with the deep ball. He was a tantalizing, versatile talent in New Orleans, with enough hiccups to keep him from realizing what many believed was Pro Bowl potential.

So maybe this change of scenery will help Vaccaro unlock that. Maybe he will fit perfectly into Dean Pees’ system and eventually prove more effective for the Titans (who also signed safety Jason Thompson for depth) than Cyprien. Maybe not. Under the circumstances, the Titans have given themselves a chance here.

Contact Joe Rexrode at jrexrode@tennessean.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.


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