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For Saints' sake, Kenny Vaccaro benching needs to be temporary

12/10/2014

METAIRIE, La. -- Bench Kenny Vaccaro? Release Joe Morgan?

Sure. At this stage in the New Orleans Saints' season, every option should be on the table. We're well past the point where an Aaron Rodgers “R-E-L-A-X” speech will get the job done.

But for both Vaccaro's sake and the Saints' sake, his demotion had better wind up being temporary. More like what happened with cornerback Patrick Robinson this season than what happened with left tackle Charles Brown around this same time last year, when the Saints gave up on Brown for good.

Without knowing everything that went into the decision, it's hard to say how much Vaccaro deserves it.

Clearly, the former first-round draft pick wasn't living up to his lofty potential -- which makes him the perfect embodiment of the entire Saints defense this year.

But one thing, Vaccaro is not is an ideal scapegoat.

This isn't the kind of move a team makes purely for effect. Vaccaro is supposed to be one of the building blocks for the Saints' future. And they can't really afford to spare those right now with their salary-cap restraints.

Vaccaro's mistakes have been pretty evident this year. Way too many missed tackles and way too many guys getting past the last line of defense for season-killing touchdowns.

I'm not sure if Vaccaro was responsible on touchdowns by Carolina's Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen in the most recent 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers -- but I know coach Sean Payton made a specific reference to that Olsen TD as one that was unacceptable.

And my biggest frustration with watching Vaccaro was that there weren't enough big game-changing plays to make up for the big misses (only four forced turnovers and two sacks in his career).

I'm OK with an all-out, attacking, aggressive style as long as the good outweighs the bad (think: Roman Harper in his prime, when he routinely led the Saints defense in both departments).

Vaccaro still has both the potential and passion to be a great asset in the future. Last year, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called him the best overall safety in the NFL because of his versatility, and ESPN scouting analyst Matt Williams predicted he'd be an eight-or-10 Pro Bowl type of player.

Another key ingredient with Vaccaro is that he seems to be passionate about being great. He wears his heart on his sleeve, is open about both his desires and his frustrations and talks all the time about how manically he watches film. For a glimpse, check out a sit-down I did with him last month after criticism was reaching its peak.

Also, just last month Payton commended Vaccaro for his effort in a blowout loss and said, “I love the attitude and toughness he brings.”

But things have gotten worse for the Saints (5-8) since then. As Payton said when he first hinted at changes after Sunday's loss, “What's madness is to continue to get up here after a game like that with our fans and say, ‘We're gonna have it right next week.'”

So maybe the benching was deserved for a team that's at wit's end.

Ultimately, though, restoring Vaccaro for the future needs to rank among the Saints' top priorities.