Kenny Vaccaro will pay the price for being on a veteran contract.
The Tennessee Titans plan to release the veteran safety, according to an NFL.com report Wednesday. The decision will free up a little more than $3.9 million in salary cap space and will require the franchise to carry $3 million in dead money, which can be spread out over multiple seasons.
It is a move that has little – if anything – to do with Vaccaro’s play and value to the team.
Instead, it has everything to do with Amani Hooker, the Titans’ fourth-round pick in 2019, who showed in his second season that he is ready to play a more prominent role on the defense. He has not missed a game in his first two NFL seasons and started three times in 2020 when Vaccaro was injured (Tennessee was 3-0 in those contests).
Hooker tied for the team lead with four interceptions last season, including a game-changer in his first career start, Nov. 22 at Baltimore, and his eight passes defensed tied for second on the team despite the fact that he was on the field for fewer than half of the defense’s total plays. He also made a career-high 44 tackles (10th on the team) and one tackle for loss.
Hooker, who is still on his rookie contract, will count just over $1.034 million against the cap in 2021.
With Vaccaro, Tennessee was set to be one of two NFL teams with two of the top 20 cap numbers for safeties in 2021. Kevin Byard’s number is $15.3 million, and Vaccaro was set to cost $6.91 million in the third year of a four-year, $24 million extension he signed in 2019.
Signed in 2018 after Johnathan Cyprien sustained a season-ending knee injury early in training camp, Vaccaro has started 42 games for the Titans over three seasons. He finished fourth on the team with 104 tackles in 2019, intercepted two passes, recovered one fumble and registered four sacks. He finished fourth on the defense with 83 tackles in 2020.
He becomes the third notable veteran who will be released as the Titans wrestle with salary cap issues. Wide receiver Adam Humphries and cornerback Malcolm Butler also have been or will be cut. All told, those three moves will create almost $19 million in cap space.