Saints deep at safety, but decisions loom on Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro

Jairus Byrd emerged late last season, but the Saints will need the veteran to take a pay cut to keep him around. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

Jairus Byrd's future is one of the most pressing issues on the New Orleans Saints' agenda this offseason. The three-time former Pro Bowler will almost certainly need to take a pay cut to stay on the roster.

However, a decision on fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro's future won't be far behind, since Vaccaro is heading into the final year of his contract.

Throw in the fact that veteran Roman Harper is an unrestricted free agent who could be mulling retirement, and you see why I have safeties ranked so high in my position-by-position breakdown of the Saints' offseason needs -- even though they added depth with second-round draft pick Vonn Bell last year.

Plus, the thinking here is that the Saints could make room for more impact players anywhere on their defense.

Five of my top six needs are on the defensive side of the ball, with the safeties at No. 6.

Current depth chart:

Kenny Vaccaro: Age 26, signed through 2017. 2017 salary and bonuses: $5.676 million. 2017 salary-cap number: $5.676 million.

Jairus Byrd: Age 30, signed through 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $7.8 million. 2017 salary-cap number: $11.2 million.

Vonn Bell: Age 22, signed through 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $630,559. 2017 salary-cap number: $902,795.

Roman Harper: Age 34, unrestricted free agent.

Erik Harris: Age 26, scheduled to be restricted free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $540,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $541,000.

Jamarca Sanford: Age 31, unrestricted free agent.

Shiloh Keo: Age 29, unrestricted free agent.

Chris Banjo: Age 26, restricted free agent.

Robenson Therezie: Age 25, scheduled to be restricted free agent in 2018. 2017 salary and bonuses: $615,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $615,000.

Forrest Hightower: Age 24, scheduled to be restricted free agent in 2020. 2017 salary: $465,000. 2017 salary-cap number: estimated to be about $465,000.


Byrd is the wild card here. Since the Saints often play in three-safety formations, they would essentially need a new starter alongside Vaccaro and Bell if they decide to release the 30-year-old.

Byrd's release seemed inevitable about six months ago. But he finally started to play his best football in three years with the Saints during the second half of last season -- highlighted by his two-interception game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16.

Now that Byrd finally seems healthy and productive after suffering a major knee injury in 2014, the Saints will likely explore a pay cut that keeps him on the roster. He is due $7.8 million in salary and bonuses this year, with a cap cost of $11.2 million. If the Saints release Byrd before June 1, he will cost $8 million in dead money against the salary cap but will be off the books for good after that.

Meanwhile, Vaccaro seems to be just entering his prime. He arguably had his best season in 2016 with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack in just 11 games played before his season was cut short by a four-game Adderall suspension.

The Saints will likely explore a long-term contract extension with Vaccaro at some point in the near future, but it won't come cheap. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to add more young depth at safety with so much uncertainty at the position.

Bell certainly helps in that regard. He showed a lot of talent and athleticism while starting 14 games. He also battled inconsistency -- but that's expected with a rookie. It will be interesting to see just how much of a leap he can take in Year 2, but he seems a safe bet to remain entrenched in the starting lineup or three-safety rotation.

Harris was also a nice addition from the Canadian Football League as a core special teams player before he tore his ACL last October. He will likely be limited this summer but should be able to target a Week 1 return.

Previous rankings:

No. 12 Specialists

No. 11 Wide receivers

No. 10 Tight ends

No. 9 Quarterbacks

No. 8 Running backs

No. 7 Offensive tackles