Saints pick up S Kenny Vaccaro's option, lock him up through 2017

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints have exercised their fifth-year option on safety Kenny Vaccaro, sources confirmed, which will keep him under contract through 2017. The one-year extension is expected to be worth between $5.5 million and $6 million.

Fifth-year options became standard for first-round draft picks during the latest collective bargaining agreement in 2011. Vaccaro, who was picked 15th overall in 2013, is believed to be the first member of the 2013 draft class to have his option exercised. The deadline is May 2.

The news of Vaccaro’s option was first reported by the NFL Network.

Vaccaro, 25, has experienced some ups and downs like the rest of the Saints’ defense in his first three seasons. He finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2013 while being used as a versatile safety/linebacker all over the field. Then he experienced a sophomore slump in 2014, partly due to a series of nagging ankle and quad injuries. He missed way too many tackles and missed some assignments, which led to a temporary demotion late that season.

But as I wrote in January, Vaccaro’s resurgence in 2015 was a key development for the Saints’ future. While playing more of a traditional strong safety role, Vaccaro had career highs of 104 tackles, three sacks and 16 games played in 2016. He went from being Pro Football Focus’ 85th-ranked safety out of 87 qualifiers in 2014 to 25th in 2015.

Vaccaro said health was the biggest reason for his turnaround but also acknowledged that he “became a better pro” when it came to learning the position of strong safety and learning opponents' tendencies.

The Saints’ secondary is still loaded with talent and untapped potential after back-to-back disappointing seasons. They will also be counting on the improved health of veteran safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Keenan Lewis, along with the continued growth of cornerback Delvin Breaux, to finally reach that potential in 2016.