November 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) celebrates with strong safety Roman Harper (41) after intercepting the ball in the end zone during the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The New Orleans Saints made a big splash in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft by selecting Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, which may have huge implications for players at the position already on the roster such as Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins.
Vaccaro was arguably the best player available when the Saints when on the clock at No. 15 overall. His addition means the team is serious about upgraded a secondary that was a major focal point of the worst statistical defense in NFL history.
This means both Harper and Jenkins could be in some trouble.
Let’s look at how his addition impacts the duo.
November 11, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints strong safety Roman Harper (41) against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Harper was one of the worst safeties in all of football last year. Don’t believe us? According to ProFootballFocus(subscription required), he ranked as the No. 87 safety in the NFL last year.
The list graded 88 players.
Even with the addition of Vaccaro, Harper’s spot on the team may be safe thanks to the almighty dollar. According to Mike Triplett of The Times-Picayune, Harper’s contract may be enough to keep him around considering the team has already paid him a significant amount of cash:
"A league source confirmed that $2.6 million of New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper’s salary became guaranteed on the third day of the league year last month, which was reported by ESPN.com. Obviously that makes a big difference when speculating on Harper’s job security.Harper’s salary-cap figure this year is $7.1 million (his salary, roster bonus and $1.75 million in pro-rated portion of his signing bonus). If the Saints release him, he will count $4.35 million against this year’s cap, plus another $1.75 million against next year’s cap (the remaining pro-rated portion of his signing bonus)."
This means the Saints have already invested in Harper for this season, and cutting him will actually cost the team money this year and next.
In other words, he’ll stick on the roster whether he loses the starting gig to Vaccaro or not.
November 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Remember how we mentioned ProFootballFocus ranked Harper as the No. 87 safety in the league out of 88?
Jenkins was No. 88.
As a matter of principle, Jenkins may be able to retain his starting job at free safety this season simply because there is no one better to take over, and ideally he and Vaccaro would combine to make the best starting duo the roster can offer.
The problem is this is a contract year for Jenkins, and Vaccaro’s addition could hurt his chances of coming back. He knows this, as he told John Roach of The Times-Picayune in an interview:
"“I think he’s(Vaccaro) a very versatile player. Obviously for me it brings a bit of uncertainty from a long-term standpoint, but for the short-term, this year coming up, it brings a lot of depth and a little bit of versatility to our defenses, which I think all of us can agree we’re trying to improve, so I’m really excited about the opportunity.”"
If anything, this could be great news for Jenkins. He has to step up his play, and he sounds more than ready to do so. He knows Vaccaro is versatile enough to play his position as well, so expect potentially big things from Jenkins in a contract year with his potential replacement playing next to him in the secondary.