After playing with the team on a one-year deal in 2018, Tennessee Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro is a prime candidate to receive a multiyear contract extension this offseason.
His play last season was certainly noteworthy. Vaccaro was a consistent physical presence, and he did a superb job of filling in for the injured Johnathan Cyprien, who tore his ACL very early on in Training Camp.
In January, Vaccaro told Turron Davenport of ESPN.com that he would want to return to the Titans if given the opportunity. He has also recently been retweeting a litany of Titans fans who want the same outcome.
If the Titans do indeed want to keep Vaccaro around with a contract extension, these are the factors they will have to consider.
UPDATE (3-4-2019): Adam Schefter of ESPN has reported that the Titans are likely going to release safety Johnathan Cyprien, indicating that an extension with Vaccaro is highly probable.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) December 31, 2018
Projected Amount for Safety in 2019: $11.662 million*
The franchise tag serves multiple purposes. It can be a last resort for a team that can’t come to terms with a player that they really want to keep, and it can serve as a placeholder until a deal is actually reached.
This one-year deal is hated pretty unanimously by players who have been subject to it (see: Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell), but it is a major asset to a team that doesn’t want to lose a quality player.
The Titans last used the franchise tag in 2012 with safety Michael Griffin. The two parties later went on to come to a long-term agreement.
With the cap space that they currently have at their disposal, the Titans could certainly use the franchise tag on Vaccaro, especially if negotiations for a new contract begin to go south.
A long-term deal, however, would probably pay Vaccaro a few million less than the $11.662 million figure listed above.
Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins (5-year, $60M deal signed in 2017)
The most recent safety to “break the bank” is Reshad Jones of the Miami Dolphins. Jones signed a five-year deal in 2017 that will pay him an annual average of $12 million. He was given $35 million in guaranteed money.
Miami very aggressively backloaded the contract—Jones made less than $8 million total over the first two years of the contract, but he is set to make $17.1 million in 2019.
Vaccaro is a good player, but he really isn’t close to being as impactful as Jones is for the Dolphins. In today’s day and age, where the safety position is becoming devalued, you need to be a sort of “jack of all trades” to warrant massive money.
Jones is just that for the Dolphins; he does a little bit of everything. His contract is the absolute ceiling for Vaccaro’s, as the Titans likely won’t give him anything close to that amount of money.
Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia Eagles (5-year, $35M deal signed in 2016)
The Eagles were looking for some extra juice on the backend of their defense in 2016, so they added McLeod in free agency. The deal, which is now nearly three years old and has since been restructured, gave McLeod $17 million guaranteed and a yearly average of $7 million.
Vaccaro won’t, and shouldn’t, make anything less than this for a couple of reasons. First, this deal is three years old. NFL contracts inflate from year to year, so McLeod would probably make more than this if he were to hit the free agent market again.
Additionally, Vaccaro is probably a more impactful player than McLeod. That makes this contract the absolute floor for negotiations between the Titans and Vaccaro.
Other Notable Contracts
Eric Reid, Carolina Panthers (3-year, $22M+ deal signed in 2019)
Kenny Vaccaro is going to be more expensive than expected 👀 https://t.co/joRjexXbYn
— Mike Herndon (@MikeMiracles) February 11, 2019
Reid was in the exact same situation as Vaccaro was heading into the 2018 season. They both sat and waited on the free agency market for far too long and were ultimately scooped up during Training Camp on one-year deals.
Like Vaccaro, Reid impressed with his opportunity. On Monday, the Panthers rewarded Reid’s efforts with a multiyear extension, reported by Michael Silver of NFL.com to be worth over $22 million.
That likely means that Reid will get $22 million in base salary with the potential of incentives adding to that total.
Because Reid’s and Vaccaro’s situations are so comparable, it seems pretty fair to think that their salaries moving forward will be close to the same. However, Vaccaro is probably a more impactful player than Reid. He will have a valid argument to make even more.
Tony Jefferson, Baltimore Ravens (4-year, $34 million deal signed in 2017)
Of all the safeties in the NFL that are playing on non-rookie deals, Jefferson is the most comparable in terms of talent to Vaccaro. Jefferson is a force to be reckoned with in the run game, and he has been a key component to the Ravens’ stellar defense over the last two seasons.
A Vaccaro extension would probably most resemble the deal that Jefferson signed with the Ravens. Two years of contract inflation will likely be wiped out by the fact that the Titans would be re-signing Vaccaro, not adding him as a free agent. They aren’t really in a bidding war.
Jefferson was given $19 million guaranteed by the Ravens on a backloaded four-year contract, a theme among safeties playing on contract extensions.
The Titans’ Best Argument
General manager Jon Robinson and the Titans will likely want to push Vaccaro toward a deal that’s similar in nature to the one Eric Reid signed. Though Vaccaro is probably more talented than Reid, their situations are so similar that the Titans have some leverage with that idea.
Essentially, they will be able to argue that, since Reid’s camp was happy with a three-year deal worth around $7.33 million annually following a successful “prove it” year, Vaccaro should be happy with that as well.
Vaccaro also probably wants some security after playing on a one-year deal in 2018, so the Titans could offer him a deal with a lot of guaranteed money but a lower overall total with the threat of using the franchise tag, which would essentially put Vaccaro in another undesirable situation.
Vaccaro’s Best Argument
Vaccaro, who is represented by David Mulugheta of Athetes First Sports Agency, will likely argue that he should get a deal closer to what Jefferson received from the Ravens.
Both Jefferson and Vaccaro are impactful strong side safeties who excel when they play close to the line of scrimmage. Jefferson worked out well for the Ravens as a free agent signing, which will give Vaccaro some leverage.
Vaccaro’s camp will also be able to argue that they should get a contract that exceeds what Eric Reid was given.
4-years, $32.15 million, $21 million guaranteed. Annual average: $8.04M
Even in a saturated safety market, Vaccaro is primed to get a pretty nice payday from whichever team he plays for in 2019 and beyond.
He likely will not get paid the same amount as Tony Jefferson did in 2017 free agency, but he will almost certainly surpass the amount the Panthers gave Eric Reid earlier this week.
In not giving him Jefferson money, the Titans can make it up to Vaccaro in two ways: length and guaranteed money.
Four years is the same length as Jefferson’s deal and more than what Reid was given. $21 million in guaranteed money is more than what both Reid and Jefferson were given.
This deal seems like a win for both sides, and is likely pretty close to what Vaccaro would sign if the Titans decide to lock him up.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today